It’s a free country, so law enforcement officials in Phoenix and Orlando have been rounding up staffers of alternative weekly newspapers and snapping on handcuffs. It’s a free country, so those staffers have been bouncing out of jail while their papers publish long, contemptuous accounts of those run-ins with law enforcement officials.

The arrests in Arizona October 18 were preceded in August by a preposterous grand jury subpoena that demanded of the Phoenix New Times “all documents” relating to a series of articles on Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio dating back to 2004; and, furthermore, the domain names, browser types, Internet Protocol addresses, operating systems, site preferences, and “electronic shopping cart” preferences of every visitor to the New Times Web site since 2004.

Last week New Times published a long article under the joint bylines of owner Jim Larkin and executive editor Michael Lacey ridiculing the subpoena, which they called a “breathtaking abuse” of the Constitution by Arpaio, county attorney Andrew Thomas, and special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik. Arpaio’s a lawman notorious nationally and frequently reelected locally for a penal philosophy that that has him blessing inmates with chain gangs, pink underwear, and green bologna. In 2005 New Times posted Arpaio’s home address on its Web site–an apparent violation of an “arcane Arizona law,” Larkin and Lacey conceded in their article, though their reporter had found the address by searching online.

Eventually Wilenchik and Thomas convened a grand jury. Describing themselves as performing an act of “civil disobedience,” Larkin and Lacey itemized the subpoena in all its astonishing detail, thus exposing themselves to charges for writing about an ongoing grand jury investigation. Sure enough, they were promptly arrested and spent a night in jail. But the next day Thomas–who may have aspirations for governor–not only dropped the charges against New Times but fired Wilenchik. “There have been serious missteps in this matter,” said the county attorney.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Weekly was holding a job fair in the downtown Marriott last Friday when officers of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation executed what they called Operation Weekly Shame. They barged in, cuffed the Weekly’s classified director and two account execs, and led them away through a gantlet of TV crews that had assembled because the MBI tipped them off. The three Weekly minions were charged with aiding and abetting and profiting from prostitution, and the newspaper with criminal racketeering. The basis of these charges was some of the paper’s classified ads.

The Weekly promptly posted on its Web site a long unsigned account of its history with the MBI. The Weekly said it ran only ads that contained “lawful content” yet at one point pulled some “adult services” ads because the MBI had flagged them. As for the MBI, it’s an “inept, inefficient police organization, answerable to no one.” It’s a “police agency with a jaw-dropping list of transgressions stretching all the way back to its inception in 1978.” The Weekly elaborated. “A short list of the agency’s misdeeds from the ’80s includes releasing a gang member and drug dealer from prison early to serve as a snitch; allowing a teenage informant to turn tricks and deal drugs under their watch; and having sex with informants. More recently, undercover MBI agents have sexually harassed strippers, destroyed evidence, orchestrated and videotaped live sex shows and jailed women for selling commonly available pornographic videos.”

The Weekly topped off its presentation with a photo taken of a naked MBI agent as he was employing his own MBI-issue cell phone to snap a picture of his penis. He “sent it to two different women with whom he was involved,” the Weekly explained. “One found out about the other, got upset and ratted him out to internal affairs.” According to the paper, the agent received “a reprimand and 32 hours of unpaid leave.”

“The Weekly doesn’t like the MBI. And the MBI doesn’t like the Weekly. That’s common knowledge,” wrote Scott Maxwell, a columnist with the daily Orlando Sentinel. “Ya know, I think a lot of us would rather you guys arrest the guy who’s actually shooting the prostitutes rather than the ones who may or may not be helping them take out a newspaper ad.” And for the benefit of readers who want porn eradicated no matter what it takes, he added, “Here’s another reason to be concerned about the MBI: They often can’t close the deal on their cases. We’ve noted for years how often the MBI makes big headlines with the arrests . . . only to later have their cases fall apart.” We’ll see what happens to this one.