Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City (Part 5 by Guest Blogger Daniel Horne)
Daniel Horne spent almost a year in Tent City. He is a business executive, husband, and father of two. Following a car accident, Daniel was not charged with drunk driving, but with aggravated assault – in Arizona’s legal system a car can be classified as a weapon you assault someone with. He is the author of the book, Accidental Felons and blog
SRT is a serious menace to inmates at Tent City. Younger prisoners, if they’ve never been in the military, don’t tolerate the verbal and physical abuse of SRT well. They aren’t psychologically prepared to be screamed at, belittled, pushed, and threatened. Getting caught staring into the eyes of an SRT member is an invitation for serious physical harm followed by a month in the hole.
SRT is the sheriff’s attempt at the SWAT (Special Weapons & Tactics) concept police departments use. SRT members wear black uniforms, black flak vests, black shin pads, black helmets, black gloves, black combat boots, and black sunglasses. Most SRT’s are athletes who resemble professional football players in size and physique, a stark contrast to the doughy plumpness of most DO’s.
It isn’t fair to the police to call SRT a SWAT team. The differences are dramatic and distinct. The SRT personnel I encountered were in a perpetual bad temper. I believe it to be due to the side effects of bodybuilding steroids based on the size of some of these men, but whatever their drug of choice, it was not a laughing matter to cross their path.
The SRT hurt people, and, from my observations, they enjoy doing it. A few carry pepper spray in a quart size aerosol canister screwed into a large, reusable paint spray atomizer. Some tote large caliber shotguns filled with beanbag munitions. Most wear Uzi machinegun-like weapons strapped across their necks and shoulders that rapid fire teargas paintballs. In truth, they resemble the Waffen-SS, Heinrich Himmler’s Armed Schutzstaffel (Protective Squadron) in demeanor and action. They routinely hurt prisoners at any opportunity. To me, SRT appeared to be a brotherhood of sorts, a gang where ruthless behavior is the measure that earns the respect of their peers.
There was one memorable day in mid-February when the entire pod was suddenly locked down for no apparent reason. Soon, the door at the far end of the room slid open and a large SRT clothed black man walked through the entrance, the butt of a shotgun parked on his hip, the barrel pointing into the air. Soon afterward, more SRT’s wearing Uzi machine guns entered leading a line of naked inmates through the common area and into the open exercise yard outside. The men, hands on top of their head, were dressed in pink boxers, socks, and rubber slippers. It was cold in the pod; it had to have been below forty degrees outside. I counted sixty three men, most of them young, but a few were elderly, and one was in a wheelchair. They walked silently, their hands clasped on top of their heads, single file, as SRT personnel positioned themselves on either side of the line. The parallel to Nazis guarding POW’s was impossible to miss, as the prisoners disappeared through the doorway and into the exercise area beyond.
Thirty minutes later, another sheriff’s deputy, a man who resembled a trained police officer more than a DO based on his uniform and behavior, arrived. He moved two large cans of pepper-spray that were sitting on the table aside and sat down on one of the stools. Prisoners were brought in one at a time. SRT sat them at the table, and the mysterious deputy questioned each of them. Prisoners with tattoos had Polaroid photographs taken of each marking on their body. All the while, the SRT soldiers milled about the room, shotgun stocks on their hips or Uzis at the ready, menacingly peering into windows of the locked-down cells. Everyone in the pod was lying on their bunk, with eyes averted when an SRT walked by, pretending not to notice what was going on in the common area.
After ten interviews, the investigating officer was reviewing his notes when another man arrived dressed in plain clothes. Evidently, the police were looking for someone and believed him to be in jail among the naked men standing outside in the cold. The two policemen chatted for a few minutes and looked at the photographs. One of the inmates was brought in, handcuffed, and led away by the plain clothes officer. The other officer left shortly thereafter.
Thirty minutes later, the door to the exercise area was opened, and the freezing line of prisoners, some whose skin had turned from warm pink to an eerie blue, were brought inside and led out of our pod. The shotgun-toting SRT who had entered the pod first was the last to leave, facing the pod to survey the room one last time before stepping through the opening — a warning that he could come back. He stepped out of sight and the door clanged shut. Cell doors began to open. BAM! BAM! BAM! We emerged, whispering about what had just happened, but we were careful not to talk loud enough to be overheard by the DO’s above our heads.
Here is the link for Part 4: http://jonsjailjournal.blogspot.com/2009/10/sheriff-joe-arpaios-tent-city-part-4-by.html
Here is the link to Daniel’s website and book: http://accidentalfelons.com/
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Shaun P. Attwood