Monday, March 02, 2009

Time to End Miscarriage of Justice

Yet another public humiliation of individuals detained in Maricopa County's prison has provoked community members and various organizations to urge for an investigation of the actions taken by County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. In a February 4th display of media marketing and self-promotion, Arpaio had chained immigrant detainees march through the streets of Phoenix, Arizona to a prison tent.

AFSC’s Tucson-based program has written a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. expressing concern for the rights of all detainees and urging the Attorney General to conduct an investigation in this egregious travesty of justice. The letter in part reads:

We are writing to you today regarding our long-standing concerns about the conduct of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Across the nation, people have been shocked by his latest publicity stunt: a forced march of detained immigrants through the streets of Phoenix. This action has very rightly sparked an outcry among immigrant and civil rights advocates.

Behind the headlines, there is a long and disturbing history of well-documented incidents of prisoner abuse in Maricopa County Jails. These issues first came to light in 1995 with a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into reports of abuse in the jails. The allegations included:

· Physical abuse of inmates by staff
· Staff and administrative failure to address allegations of physical abuse
· Failure to discipline staff found to have abused detainees and inmates
· False reporting regarding use of force and allegations of abuse
· Denial of access to counsel
· Inadequate medical care

A year later, the Sheriff’s office was rocked by reports of a horrific death in the Madison Street Jail. Scott Norberg died of positional asphyxia after being strapped in a restraint chair by five officers with a towel over his face. Authorities initially denied but later acknowledged that the officers used taser guns, which carry 50,000 volts of electricity, on Norberg repeatedly during the incident... Arizona Daily Star reported that the medical examiner found twenty-one marks from the taser on Norberg’s body.

In 1997, the Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded its two-year investigation...[I]t concluded that unconstitutional conditions existed in the jails... DOJ’s findings were reported in a strongly worded sixteen-page letter...which recounted a litany of disturbing findings of abuse and neglect. The letter reported that “jail inmates are subject to use of excessive force and use of excessive and improper mechanical restraints by jail employees and Defendants fail to protect jail inmates from such actions...

Assistant Attorney General Patrick Deval found that jail staff was applying force without justification, including “use of a stun gun simply to see its effect.” Deval reported...that it was particularly shocking to find that some staff continued to use force against prisoners who were completely immobilized in restraints...conduct included “use of a stun gun on a prisoner’s testicles while in a restraint chair."

Unfortunately, these interventions did not eliminate the incidents of abuse and neglect in the jails. In 2001, another man, Charles Agster, was killed in the Madison Street Jail’s restraint chair. He was developmentally disabled and was high on methamphetamine at the time. During the struggle to secure him in the chair, a group of guards put a hood over his head and forced his body forward while his arms were handcuffed behind his back. At this point, he stopped breathing...

In August of 2006, after the department paid $17.25 million in response to two lawsuits filed by the families of prisoners who had died in the chair, MCSO announced it would discontinue using the device. It has been replaced with a “safe bed” to which inmates can be restrained while lying flat...

This conduct undermines public safety rather than preserving it. for an immediate...investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Such an intervention is long overdue.


ACT NOW – GET INVOLVED! Join efforts that support due process and put an end to racial profiling; contact AFSC’s Tucson office at 520-623-9141 or

CALL, E-MAIL OR WRITE - U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and urge him to investigate the actions taken by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and to act swiftly to ensure that the civil liberties and human rights of all detainees are duly protected.

Call: 202-353-1555 or E-mail:

OR write a letter:
Eric H. Holder, Jr.,
U.S. Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001