On October 18, 2007, in the dead of night, Larkin and Lacey were taken away from their homes in handcuffs by plainclothes detectives and placed in unmarked cars bound for the Maricopa County jail.
This is likely a far cry from what the CEO and executive editor had envisioned for themselves when they first started Voice Media, a 17 publication paper that was originally started while the two were attending the University of Arizona. But here they were, being arrested for the very thing that had sparked their interest in journalism–the pursuit of justice.
Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin had gotten their start by voicing their frustrations about the 1970 Kent State killings in a campus paper. Though they would later drop out of the university, the paper would continue to grow and they would work on several publications–one of which was the Phoenix New Times. Much of the New Times coverage was dedicated to Sherrif Joe Arpaio.
Arpaio had become widely known for his hard-nosed approach with the prisoners. In fact, according to the New Times, the Sherrif’s handling of the prisoners was downright sinister, at best. Prisoners were fed rotting food and forced to wear pink underwear.
When the jail became overcrowded, they were sheltered outside inside a tent in 135-degree weather. They were deprived of their medications. And even more devastating, many hung themselves which led to a suicide rate that was unprecedented.
Larkin and Lacey took a deep interest in this Sheriff, which to his dismay ended up uncovering many of his scandals. Not that this was an easy feat. In fact, anyone who posed a threat to the Sheriff would often be treated to a smear campaign and threatened with arrest.
And if there was something that the Sherrif couldn’t take care of himself, he would deputize a few citizens, make them his posse and they would do his bidding for him.
In fact, the Sheriff’s posse was instrumental in rounding up Latino citizens so that it could be determined rather they were illegal or documented immigrants. This order led to the Melendres v. Arpaio class-action lawsuit, in which the victims were awarded a $70 million settlement. After not complying with the judge’s order to make reforms in his system, Arpaio was found in contempt. Read more: Michael Lacey | Twitter and Michael Lacey | LinkedIn
Though he was set to serve at least 6 months for this infraction, Donald Trump eventually pardoned him. Larkin and Lacey claim that this pardon was likely a result of Arpaio supporting Trump’s presidential candidacy. They also feel that this could have also been an attempt by Trump to garner the support of those who supported Arpaio–namely, nationalists.
In the same year that Melendres v. Arpaio was awarded a settlement, so were Larkin and Lacey. Arpaio had initially been seeking the prosecution of their investigative reporter who mentioned the Sheriff’s home address in their latest expose.
However, when Larkin and Lacey responded with an article that revealed the details of the subpoena and thrown in jail, the story was picked up by national publications and there was an outcry from the public. The case was eventually closed and they were given $3.75 for an improper arrest.
They used their settlement to start the Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund, dedicated to giving grants to Arizona migrant-rights foundations. And though they have since sold the Voice Media, they are now working on a new publication. Its called Front Page Confidential and it advocated for the first amendment right.