Channel 4 Documentary
British television station exposes abuse
Sheriff Joe featured in ‘Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons’
Produced and Directed by Nick London
Article written by Linda Bentley - Sonoran News - March 2 - March 9, 2005
LONDON, U.K. – In late January, British Channel Four Television Reporter Deborah Davies was in Arizona interviewing Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the women involved with Mothers Against Arpaio (MAA). The program titled, “Torture: America’s Brutal Prisons,” airs tonight across the sea. The program opens with stills depicting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad being humiliated and tortured by American guards. Cutting to the next scene, American guards are marching to cells, screaming obscenities at naked prisoners, this time they’re in Texas. And then, cutting to the Fourth Avenue Jail, the narrator says: “Get arrested in Phoenix, Arizona – and you’ll end up here; a county jail run by the sheriff’s department. … Just as we arrive, two prisoners start fighting. The inmates are quickly buried under a mountain of officers.“This jail is run by the man who revels in the title ‘America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
Arpaio says, “… I’m not going to have my officers assaulted. When these inmates try to assault my officers, we use as much force as necessary.”
Channel Four asks, “But more than a dozen officers to pull a man out of a cell, fling him on the floor, jump on top of him … why?”
Arpaio said, “What difference, whether you use one or ten. It doesn’t make any difference. We’re going to restrain that person.” That seemed to be the perfect segway into use of the restraint chair.
Dan Corcoran of AEDEC International, manufacturer of the “Prostraint Violent Prisoner Chair,” told Channel Four, “What this does is protect the prisoner. And, it was made to protect the prisoner. It keeps the airway clear. Think about how many deaths it’s eliminating. Plus look at how humane it is …”
However, reality speaks to 20 prisoners who died after being placed in restraint chairs. The Medieval-looking device is still in use in Arizona, even though two of those deaths occurred in Arpaio’s jail.
As Arpaio provides a tour of Madison Street Jail, the commentator continues, “It’s almost a choreographed routine … stressing the tough conditions, the convict uniforms, the terrible food.” Arpaio says, “… They’re criminals, they’re murderers. I’m sorry they’re alleged murderers. They haven’t been convicted yet.”
The commentator goes on, “But strip away the showmanship of Sheriff Arpaio and you hit a far more brutal allegation … inside his jails prisoners are beaten, tortured, even killed.”
The program cuts to photographs of Charles Agster, mentally handicapped and a drug user. “He weighed only nine stone,” the commentator states, the equivalent of 126 pounds. After Agster was arrested for refusing to leave a convenience store, his parents assumed he would be held in jail overnight.
His mother Carol Agster relives the story, “The telephone rang and it’s the emergency room. They said, ‘Well, your son is here … we don’t know if he’s going to live through the night."
The commentator says: “The horror of Charles Agster’s last hours is captured by cameras inside Madison Street Jail.”
A video of Agster being dragged into the jail is shown as his mother says, “He was dragged in like a suitcase. He was hogtied … a policeman was kicking him. … nine jail staff forced him into a restraint chair – still handcuffed. One kneels on his stomach. They bend him forward to undo the handcuffs and re-strap him into the chair.”A nurse notices Agster is unconscious. She pinches his face, puts ammonia under his nose, yet no one removes the spit mask or frees him from the chair.
Training documents from the sheriff’s own department clearly warn inmates must be uncuffed before being placed in the chair, to avoid what’s known as positional asphyxia. Arpaio tells Davies, “You can see all the videos you want. Videos … don’t always tell the truth.”
Davies asks, “But you’re not denying that he’s put in the chair with his hands handcuffed behind his back?”
Arpaio responds, “I’m not familiar with all that as far as the handcuffs. But I’m telling you right now, we did nothing wrong … when you run a jail system … you’re bound to have some deaths that occur.”
The sheriff apparently learned nothing since Scott Norburg died in a restraint chair. Norberg’s family was awarded over $8 million in a lawsuit.
Brian Crenshaw, a blind man, was serving six months for shoplifting. His mother Linda Evans learned he had been in some sort of scuffle with officers at Tent City before he was transferred and placed in solitary confinement at Madison Street Jail. Six days later Crenshaw was taken to the hospital after being found unconscious in his cell. However, Crenshaw had already told a prison doctor he’d been beaten by officers. He died one month later and the family is suing.
Evans says, “They murdered my son. Mr. Arpaio is responsible. He is the head of the sheriff’s department and yet he seems to thrive on this cruelty and this mentality that these men are nothing.”
The sheriff insists Crenshaw fell off a bunk. Even though medical evidence indicates otherwise, it’s Arpaio’s story and he’s sticking to it. Arpaio said, “Well, a lot of people in jail say certain comments that are not true. So, if you want to believe a few of these inmates … so be it.”
Channel Four joined MAA at the home of co-founder Pearl Wilson, whose son Phillip Wilson died after being beat into a coma by other inmates. Wilson is also suing the sheriff. She says Arpaio’s staff allows fights to happen.
Arpaio said, “I feel very comfortable with myself. I go to sleep every night. It’s a tough job that I have. … if this sheriff … did anything wrong … it would be well publicized. I’m sure action would have been taken.”
If action translates to lawsuits, Arpaio is named as a defendant in approximately 1,500.
Jon spent over two years in Arpaio’s jail system, he was in Madison St. jail until he was sentenced. It was while he was there that Jon decided to write about the conditions. Revisit the beginning of the blog to understand why it all came about.