By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - The son and daughter-in-law of U.S. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona have filed suit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, alleging he was playing politics and courting publicity in pursuing animal cruelty charges against them, court papers showed on Monday.
Austin and Logan Flake filed suit in federal court in Phoenix on Friday accusing Arpaio of abuse and malicious prosecution stemming from the deaths by heat exhaustion last June of 21 dogs at a suburban Phoenix kennel.
The complaint, which also named Maricopa County, alleges that Arpaio's actions caused the couple "irreparable harm to their lives and their reputations."
The couple had been left in charge of the Green Acre kennel, owned by Logan Flake's parents, Jesse and Maleisa Hughes, while the Hughes were on a trip to Florida.
The Flakes were each charged with 21 felony and seven misdemeanor charges for abuse of neglect, but the county attorney dropped the charges against the couple. The Hughes were reindicted by a grand jury in the case in May.
Arpaio said in a statement on Monday that his office took the case "very seriously," and he defended his the investigation into the dog deaths.
"The allegation being made by Flake's attorney that this investigation was in any way politically motivated is completely false," the Maricopa County sheriff said in his statement.
In the lawsuit, lawyers for the Flakes pointed to what they said was a long history of investigations launched by Arpaio "whether for spite or publicity," and they argued that animal cruelty cases were favored because they generated campaign cash.
The complaint charges that Arpaio knew that the Flake name would generate publicity and that the young couple were targeted in part to harm the Republican senator, who had disagreed with Arpaio on several issues.
"Arpaio even went so far as to direct the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to try to connect Senator Flake to the investigation," the lawsuit stated, adding that surveillance was conducted on the senator's home.
It also states that the sheriff's office misled prosecutors and "intentionally and or knowingly lied to the grand jury" at Arpaio's direction.
A spokesman for Senator Flake could not be reached for comment.
Authorities said the Flakes found 21 dogs dead and dying in a room where the air conditioning had failed.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)