Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Former Phoenix-Area Sheriff Joe Arpaio Files Defamation Suit

AP Photo/Matt York, File

Former Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio has filed a defamation lawsuit seeking $300 million against three news organizations, alleging their inaccurate references to his criminal case have hurt his chances at possibly running in 2020 for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by John McCain.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Washington alleges that CNN, Huffington Post and Rolling Stone magazine acted with malice when they published statements they knew to be erroneous.

Arpaio claims CNN took no effort to correct a statement by anchor Chris Cuomo during a January broadcast that the lawman was a convicted felon. Arpaio's 2017 criminal contempt of court conviction for disobeying a judge's order to stop his immigration patrols was a misdemeanor, not a felony.

A pardon by President Donald Trump spared Arpaio a possible jail sentence.

The lawsuit also focuses on a Huffington Post story in November that erroneously said Arpaio had been sent to prison for contempt of court. The lawsuit notes that Rolling Stone had corrected an error in a November story that erroneously said Arpaio was an ex-felon.

But the lawsuit also said anyone who read the incorrect version of the Rolling Stone story still wouldn't know that it was erroneous to call Arpaio an ex-felon.

As a result of the inaccurate statements, the lawsuit alleges Arpaio has been the subject of ridicule, his reputation has been severely harmed and his chances of raising campaign funds from the Republican establishment for a possible 2020 Senate campaign have been damaged.

He said he has no idea whether he'll actually get $300 million from the lawsuit, but that the filing sends a message to news organizations that they need to fact-check their stories.

Regardless of whether a news organization apologizes for such an error, Arpaio said he is the one who is left dealing with the incorrect impression of him as a felon. "I am not going to sit back and take that," Arpaio said.

He served as metro Phoenix's sheriff for 24 years before he was defeated in 2016 by a little-known retired Phoenix police sergeant. This past summer, he finished last in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat held by outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake.

Arpaio, 86, said he doesn't know for sure whether he'll run in the 2020 Senate race to fill McCain's former post.

CNN declined to comment on Arpaio's lawsuit.

While the lawsuit said Huffington Post made no effort to correct the error, a correction at the bottom of the story says a previous version of the article mistakenly indicated Arpaio went to prison for his conviction.

Huffington Post didn't respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also said anyone who read the incorrect version of the Rolling Stone story still wouldn't know that it was erroneous to call Arpaio an ex-felon. That story contains an editor's note that said the magazine regretted the error and that the story was updated to reflect that Arpaio's conviction was a misdemeanor, not a felony.

No one answered the phone at Rolling Stone when the AP called for comment, and an email sent from the AP to the magazine's publicity operation was undeliverable.