A blast from the past: New Times found a disproportionate number of hanging deaths in Joe Arpaio's jail
A blast from the past: New Times found a disproportionate number of hanging deaths in Joe Arpaio's jail
Mark Poutenis

Even Clinton and Lewinsky Can Agree That New Times' Journalism Matters

It says something about the legacy of Phoenix New Times journalism that it helped Chelsea Clinton and Monica Lewinsky find common ground.

Clinton and Lewinsky both retweeted a Twitter thread this weekend that encapsulated more than two decades of this publication's coverage of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

"Thread for anyone who cares about justice, civil rights, human rights, law & order, our country," Clinton tweeted.

Lewinsky was more blunt.

"THIS ARPAIO THREAD," she wrote.

OHH-KAYY.  I like the CAPS.

Actor Mark Ruffalo, singer Bette Midler, Olympic champion Carl Lewis, U.S. Senator Cory Booker, the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr., comedian Seth Meyers, NBC's Katy Tur, and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz were also among more than 140,000 people (and still counting) who have shared our litany of Arpaio's sins. So was Mr. Wikileaks himself, Julian Assange. (That dude has some weird followers.)

As a result, our story went viral, which I'm told is a good thing, as opposed to a virus, which is not.

I will confess that before Arpaio was pardoned by President Donald Trump on Friday, I didn't know what a Twitter thread was. But reporter Antonia Noori Farzan, who's been here such a short time that she's only known Paul Penzone as the Maricopa County Sheriff, noticed that readers were finding numerous archived stories written by New Times reporters about Arpaio.

Yes, we know what you're reading online and when.

Farzan asked if she could put together a thread of the best of those articles. I was busy editing the breaking news, but it sounded like a good idea even if I wasn't quite sure what she meant.

I thought Twitter was only useful for 140 characters at a time. But Farzan and social media editor Dillon Rosenblatt used the President's favorite weapon as a machine gun against his pardon of the man who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to stop his department from racial profiling.

In one tweet, they blasted out a damning string of stories told by some of New Times' finest reporters past and present: journalists I've never met, like former editor Michael Lacey, John Dougherty, Tony Ortega, John Dickerson, and Matthew Hendley; veterans that I've had the privilege to work with since I began editing New Times seven months ago like Ray Stern, Stephen Lemons, and Sean Holstege; and our young lions, Farzan and six-month fellows Joe Flaherty, Molly Longman, and Lindsay Moore, who put together Friday's breaking news reports.

That thread has touched hundreds of thousands of readers across the country and the world.

Huffington Post wrote this headline:  "Phoenix Newspaper Tears Into Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio In Brutal Twitter Thread."  (We're not really a "newspaper," especially since it went out on Twitter, but I get it.)

Senator Booker tweeted, "Please follow this thread by The Phoenix New Times so you further understand how outrageous & offensive to the rule of law this pardon is."

We appreciate the high-powered accolades. What means the most to us, though, are the comments from many ordinary folks who aren't from here. Most knew about Arpaio's reputation for illegally profiling Hispanic people and sending them back across the border. But they told us there was so much they learned about his past behavior from these stories.

They didn't know how Arpaio's deputies arrested New Times co-founders Lacey and James Larkin in the middle of the night on a misdemeanor charge because the paper published his home address. That cost the county $3.75 million in a settlement.

Few realized how jail inmate Richard Post, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, ended up with a broken neck because he pounded on his cell door demanding a catheter so he could pee.

Most probably had never heard the story of Ambrett Spencer. The county jail inmate was nine months pregnant but deprived of a doctor's care for almost four hours even though she was in severe pain. Her daughter, Ambria Renee Spencer, a 9-pound baby girl, was born dead. Spencer's pain had been caused by internal bleeding and the baby could have been saved if she had been treated earlier. Jail guards tried to prevent Spencer from seeing her daughter before the funeral, but finally relented. "I kept praying that she would just open her eyes because she looked like she was alive," Spencer told her attorneys.

Nor had many read the tales about how rapists and child molesters got away because the sheriff was spending his department's budget on the high-profile raids of undocumented immigrants.  And they knew little of the disproportionate number of hanging deaths in Arpaio's jail.

Perhaps these new readers chuckled — people here didn't — when they found out taxpayers spent $1,102,528.50  to settle a suit brought by a man Arpaio framed in 1999 in a staged murder plot against the sheriff.  Apparently, Arpaio's people even helped buy the bomb parts to set up the phony threat designed to  enhance the reputation of America's Toughest Sheriff.

And it seemed that thousands were touched and enlightened by one particular story, "Dog Day Afternoon," by Dougherty.

He told the tale of a bumbling county SWAT team raid of a home in Ahwatukee where the owner was believed to be heavily armed with a stash of cop-killing bullets.

In the process, the deputies:

• Burned down the family's $250,000 home.
• Smashed into a parked car with their armored personnel carrier.
• Forced a pit bull puppy trying to flee the home back into the fire, where it met an agonizing death.

Then, Dougherty wrote, "deputies reportedly laughed as the dog's owners came unglued as it perished in the blaze."

And the man with the cop-killing bullets? There were none. But he did have an outstanding misdemeanor warrant, so they locked him up. He was released on $1,000 bond.

The real significance of this story to me, as Dougherty pointed out, is that the mainstream media gave it scant attention. The detailed reporting came from New Times, the alternative press.

And that's why I'm writing this. I'm hardly a part of the New Times legacy of great journalism, earned for more than 40 years of dogged reporting in the PHX. I can only hope to perpetuate it.

But to make sure we can shine a light on future Sheriff Joes, we need your support. Pick us up on the newsstand every Thursday. We're free. We don't charge digital readers, either, as some local publications do. Bookmark our home page, phoenixnewtimes.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram. Look for our next Twitter thread. I'm sure there will be another one.

The Arpaio thread posted one angry response after columnist Schultz posted it on her Facebook page.

"More liberal lies, no proof," a man named Dan Ausbrooks wrote. "God bless President Trump and Sherriff Joe !!!"

I couldn't resist a reply.

"He's no longer Sheriff Joe whether you spell it with one 'r' or two."

And I'm certain the long line of great journalists at New Times had a lot to do with that.

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