Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio Still on the Hook for Violating Thomas Lovejoy's Civil Rights in Doggie Death Case

Squirm though he will, Sheriff Joe is still on the legal chopping block for violating the civil rights of Sgt. Thomas Lovejoy, the Chandler cop Arpaio had arrested and dragged through court on a bogus claim of animal cruelty. This, in the heat-related death of Lovejoy's K-9 pooch Bandit.

That's the decision of District Court Judge Neil Wake. In an order handed down Wednesday, Wake denied the motion to dismiss the suit filed by Arpaio's lawyers, allowing Lovejoy's claim to move forward, with a few exceptions. Wake ruled that Lovejoy's abuse of process claim failed, as did Lovejoy's assertion of false arrest, though this last was due to the claim being filed too long after the incident. (You can read Wake's entire order, here.)

Wake also dismissed the MCSO as an entity from the suit, but he found Sheriff Joe himself still liable, writing that, "Sheriff Arpaio is not entitled to qualified immunity now." So Arpaio remains a defendant in the case, which was transferred from county superior court to federal district court in September.

Additionally, Wake signaled that Lovejoy's assertion that he was arrested without probable cause -- thus violating Lovejoy's Forth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution -- has merit. He suggested Arpaio should have known better than to (allegedly) strong-arm the county attorney's office into filing a criminal complaint against Lovejoy.

Concerning what Arpaio knew, Wake clicked off the facts of the case in the following passage:

"Because the MCSO conducted a month-long investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bandit's death and there was a lot of public attention to the case before and after Sgt. Lovejoy was arrested, it must be taken that Sheriff Arpaio knew, as Sgt. Lovejoy has alleged, that (1) Sgt. Lovejoy was an animal lover and took very good care of Bandit during the four years prior to the incident; (2) Sgt. Lovejoy was operating under the stress of family pressures and with very little sleep on the day of the incident as a result of being called upon to perform overtime work by the Chandler Police Department; 3) Bandit did not usually accompany Sgt. Lovejoy on overtime assignments; (4) Sgt. Lovejoy took Bandit on his last overtime assignment in case he was called to help with the serial rapist investigation; (5) Sgt. Lovejoy was not at fault for the circumstances that led to him being sleep deprived and to have to deviate from his usual routine; (6) Bandit was asleep in his kennel in the back of the SUV when Sgt. Lovejoy reached his home; and (7) Sgt. Lovejoy was genuinely surprised when he discovered Bandit dead in the SUV to the point of weeping and babbling...

"A reasonable person with knowledge of these facts and only these facts would not have believed that Sgt. Lovejoy was reckless by `consciously disregarding' the risk to Bandit. There is no allegation that Sgt. Lovejoy ever neglected Bandit. To the contrary, the allegation is that Sgt. Lovejoy was an animal lover who lavished upon Bandit, rescued dogs, and volunteered to help his police department raise money to purchase new dogs. There is no allegation that Sgt. Lovejoy was intoxicated or that he otherwise created the conditions that led to Bandit being at risk. Sgt. Lovejoy was sleep deprived and stressed, but only because he had been called to work overtime by the Chandler Police Department and because of external family pressures. Bandit was not in the backseat of a car where he could easily be spotted--he was in a kennel, asleep, in the rear of the SUV. The allegations in the complaint indicate that Sgt. Lovejoy sincerely forgot that Bandit was in the SUV for reasons not caused by his own prior recklessness or fault. A person who fails to perceive a risk, even when the failure to do so is a `gross' deviation from applicable norms, can only be negligent, not reckless."

Lovejoy's complaint alleges, as is obvious to many who've followed the case, that Arpaio went after the cop out of a mania for publicity. A press conference announcing Lovejoy's collar was scheduled even before Lovejoy was arrested. And the complaint alleges that Anthony Church, the deputy county attorney assigned to the case was removed and replaced with Andrew Thomas' personal attack dog Lisa Aubuchon after Church made known to his superiors that "there was a complete lack of evidence that Sgt. Lovejoy intended to harm Bandit," according to Wake's order.

In 2008, Lovejoy was acquitted by a Justice of the Peace for the San Tan Justice court after the JP quickly concluded that, as Wake summarized, "the prosecution had not produced a shred of evidence to show that Sgt. Lovejoy's conduct was arrested."

In essence, the entire farce was a product of Arpaio's ravenous ego, as is a lot of what goes on at the MCSO and the MCAO.

Lovejoy is being represented by attorneys at the Phoenix firm Stinson Morrison Hecker, including tort titan Michael Manning, who has secured multi-million dollar settlements and awards in several anti-Joe suits. In 2008, following Lovejoy's acquittal, Manning filed the required notice of claim against the county, reportedly for the sum of $350,000.

It's safe to say, based on all the info that's out there on this matter, that Lovejoy and his family deserve at least that much. If they can, I hope they get more.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons