Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Negligent Homicide of Marcia Powell

The comment following the article below is my response as posted on the PHX New Times website. Stephen Lemons has done a lot of good work covering Marcia's death.


Marcia Powell Cage Death: County Attorney Releases ADC PowerPoint, Internal ADC Investigation Not Reviewed by CA

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not review a 3,000 page internal Arizona Department of Corrections investigation into the 2009 cage death of Perryville Prison inmate Marcia Powell.

The County Attorney's office last week declined to prosecute anyone involved in Powell's heat-related death. The ADC had asked for charges of negligent homicide to be brought against seven corrections officers on duty May 19, 2009, the day Powell was kept in an outside enclosure for four hours in 107 degree heat.

Powell collapsed and was never revived. She later died at West Valley Hospital in the early morning hours of May 20, after ADC director Charles Ryan authorized doctors to suspend life support.

A 3,000 page internal investigation released by ADC last year revealed accounts by inmates that Powell was never given water and that she was mocked or ignored by ADC staff when she asked for water, to go to the bathroom, or to be taken back inside.

Though corrections officers maintained that Powell had been given water, her desiccated corpse argued otherwise. She had been kept outside in the blazing Arizona sun hours past the department's own two-hour cutoff for such en plein air detention. Also, her body was covered in excrement, as she soiled herself while in the enclosure.

But according to ADC spokesman Barrett Marson, the County Attorney's office never reviewed the 3,000 page report released last year. Instead, the CA received a copy of ADC's separate, criminal investigation, which Marson characterized as "even more voluminous."

Based on that criminal investigation, the CA's office concluded that there was "insufficient evidence" to go forward with a prosecution.

Why didn't the CA get to see the internal investigation, which was made public and reported on by several news outlets? This has to do with something called "the Garrity rule," based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision Garrity vs. New Jersey.

According to the Garrity rule, law enforcement officers can be compelled to answer certain questions by their employers, but those statements cannot be used against a LEO in criminal proceedings.

The CA's office is currently preparing the criminal case file for release. In the meantime, they have released a PowerPoint presentation given by ADC staff to the CA's office. You can see a copy of it, here. (Warning, it contains some blurry photos of Powell's corpse.)

"That was like reading the Reader's Digest condensed version of things," said prison reform advocate Donna Hamm after reviewing the document. "Clearly they left out a lot of relevant, very important stuff, like the fact that she had soiled herself a couple of times. It was a cleaned-up condensed version."

Nevertheless, the PowerPoint is damning. It notes that some officers were aware that the mentally ill Powell was on psychotropic drugs that could cause "an elevation of the body temperature."

And you would think that staff psychologist Dr. Susan Kaz, the person who (according to the PowerPoint) directed the c.o.'s to move Powell from her cell to the outside enclosure, would have been aware of this as well.

When Powell's body was examined by the county coroner, it was found to have a core body temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit. It may have been higher, as medical thermometers only go as far as 108 degrees.

Corrections officers provided conflicting statements according to the PowerPoint. They didn't keep proper logs and notes. And some displayed callous indifference to Powell's suffering.

When officers discovered that Powell had collapsed, one asked officer Esmeralda Pegues, who was stationed nearby the enclosure, how long Powell had been on the ground.

"Officer Pegues replied with words to the effect of, `several minutes,'" the PowerPoint states.

Pegues was one of the seven officers the ADC requested felony charges on. The others were Evan Hazelton, Iain Fenyves, Electra Allen, Cortez Agnew, Anita Macias and Ariana Mena.

Hamm told me that she doesn't believe that conflicting statements from the c.o.'s should be enough to stop a prosecution.

"In any big crime, there are conflicting witnesses," she argued. "That shouldn't scare off the county attorney."

The CA's decision on this matter is disappointing. I'm left to wonder if things might have been different if Powell had next-of-kin willing to push for indictments on her behalf.

Indeed, there's no one around to even sue. Her aged, estranged adoptive mother, who lives in California, reportedly wanted nothing to do with Powell's case.

More than 16 ADC employees were ultimately fired or disciplined in the fallout from the Powell incident, but that's hardly justice. Powell's death deserves more.

1 comment:

Prison Abolitionist said...

The Arizona State Personnel Board office is located at 1400 W. Washington St., Suite 280 Phoenix, AZ 85007-2939. As I posted previously, at their June meeting, with no discussion, on a motion from Joseph Smith, they reinstated Electra Allen to her previous position at Perryville, despite the ADC's decision to terminate her and their recommendation that she be prosecuted for negligent homicide. To their credit, they did not reinstate Iain Fenyves; Joseph Smith was the only member who didn't agree, however. He seems to be far more sympathetic to ADC employees than to the woman they killed.

Here is the additional contact information: I'm sure they will be hearing more ADC employee appeals. Before their September meeting, perhaps they should hear from Friends of Marcia Powell's and others in the community who are disturbed by these developments.

Phone: (602) 542-3888
Fax: (602) 542-3588
Email: (executive director)

Additionally, it's my understanding that negligent homicide isn't just a crime in Maricopa County - it's a state and federal crime. If Romley (602-506-3411) won't make his people take responsibility, then we should pressure Goddard to. The Attorney General's office is at 1275 W. Washington St., Phoenix, AZ 85007 (602-542-5025). Make it clear that we expect leadership from him on getting justice for Marcia, be it in a courtroom or otherwise.

I looked into Arizona's victim's rights laws to see if the public can ever be considered a secondary victim of violence done by public employees in their official capacity. Apparently, under the Arizona Constitution, a person who is "in custody for an offense" is not considered a "victim" themselves, regardless of their vulnerability to neglect or abuse or the heinousness of the crime perpetrated against them. That's BS. No wonder the perpetrators aren't treated as criminals.

In light of the horrendous abuses in our prisons and jails here, I have a real problem with people having no rights when victimized in custody, and plan to make it an issue while lobbying for "Marcia's Law", beginning tomorrow.

Finally, Donna Hamm's reference to getting the Justice Department to investigate is regarding the Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA). It takes years for them to get around to it; the more people who complain to them about abuses in the state prisons and our county jails, the better. They need to see a pattern of abuse, not just a single incident. I periodically forward them packets to establish such patterns, as I suspect Middle Ground does. You can send them local news articles about prisoner abuse and neglect every time you find them, too, beginning now. An expression of public outrage directed to them, not just the blogs, would help, too. Get them familiar with the name of Marcia Powell.

Special Litigation Section
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Telephone Number
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toll-free at (877) 218-5228

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Thank you.