Here are just a few examples of assaults, medical neglect and outright murder committed by officers in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's gulags, compounded by tolerance and encouragement of violence between inmates.
Their Blood, Our Money
In 1996 a young man named Jeremy Flanders was beaten nearly to death by fellow inmates in Tent City. He was put on life support and during that time his head had swollen so badly that it nearly swallowed his ear on one side. Flanders, who was well behaved and a favorite of the guards, sustained permanent brain damage as a result of his injuries. The weapon used to beat Flanders was a rebar tent stake. These rebar tent stakes which were easily removed from the ground were often used as weapons, a problem easily remedied by cementing the stakes into the ground. In his stinging 26 page opinion Judge Jefferson L. Lankford stated that “The sheriff and his deputies had actual knowledge that prisoners used rebar tent stakes and tent poles as weapons and did nothing to prevent it.” He went on to say, “The sheriff admitted knowing about, and in fact intentionally designing, some conditions at Tent City that created a substantial risk of inmate violence: i.e., the lack of individual security and inmate control inherent in a tent facility; the small number of guards; a mixed inmate population subject to overcrowding, extreme heat, and lack of amenities. The history of violence, the abundance of weaponry, the lack of supervision, and the absence of necessary security measures supports the jury’s finding of deliberate indifference to inmate safety.” The appeals court awarded 635,000 dollars to Flanders. Arpaio was held personally liable for thirty-five percent of the judgment.
That same year, Scott Norberg died of positional asphyxia after being beaten and forced into a restraint chair by guards. Norberg was tased more than twenty times although he was fully subdued and posed no threat to the officers. Research by the (ABC) 20/20 investigative staff indicates that the officers involved knowingly ignored signs that they were killing Norberg.
Although many healthy men and women have exited Arpaio’s jails in a gurney, it seems that the infirm and disabled are at particularly high risk in Maricopa County’s gulags. In fact, in some cases, it seems that they are singled out for abuse.
Deborah Braillard was a diabetic inmate who was denied her insulin for over two days. When her constant moaning became too much for her cellmates to bear, the guards moved her to an empty cell where she could writhe in pain alone. She died in the hospital.
Mentally handicapped Charles Agster, who weighed only a hundred and thirty-two pounds, was arrested on loitering charges after refusing to leave a convenience store. He was taken into the prison hogtied and wrenched so tightly into a restraint chair that he died within minutes. Although Arpaio admits no wrongdoing, he refuses to let the family of Charles Agster see the surveillance footage of their son being put into the restraint chair.
Paraplegic, wheelchair-bound Richard Post was arrested for being disruptive in a bar. After some time in a cell he complained to the guards that his catheter was full. He flushed the toilet several times in order to get their attention. Instead of giving him medical care the guards strapped him into the restraint chair so tightly that they broke his neck. He is now a quadriplegic.
A blind inmate, Brian Crenshaw, who refused to show his identification card in a lunch line, was savagely beaten by guards and left in his cell for six days without medical treatment. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Arpaio insists Crenshaw suffered ruptured intestines, a broken neck, several broken toes, and extensive internal bleeding from “falling off a bunk” a little over four feet high.
And although the counterproductive barbarism of Arpaio’s reign should be the paramount issue it seems that money is the only thing that will pique the interest of Phoenician reporters. The attitude of our local press is best represented by the closing comment in an Arizona Republic article by Ed Montini -- “The Rising Cost of Indifference in Arpaio’s Jails.” When referring to the county supervisor's apathy to the horror stories leaking from the walls of Arpaio’s prisons and jails he said that their indifference “…would be fine only if all of this wasn't paid for with our money.” But now that the cost of Arpaio’s incompetence is mounting even the Arizona Republic is regularly printing anti-Arpaio articles.
Even though it seems cold to transcribe these tragedies into the language of dollars and cents it is unfortunately necessary to do so because their blood and our money are irreversibly intertwined. When inmates die or suffer permanent injury so needlessly, they or their families seek damages. The lawsuits resulting from the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Arpaio’s dungeons represent the largest portion of the mountainous debt that will be paid in the decades after Arpaio’s irresponsible reign. The appeals court awarded 635,000 dollars to Flanders, 30% of which Arpaio had to pay personally. The Norberg family received an 8.5 million dollar settlement on their son’s behalf. Michael Manning, the attorney for the Norberg family, is suing on behalf of Braillard’s son and father for 20 million dollars. The family of Charles Agster is seeking 25 million. Maricopa County paid Post 850,000 dollars for his injuries and the Crenshaw family is suing as well.