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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Friday, October 8, 2010

Justicia Ahora: Danny Rodriguez, police brutality, and the Phoenix PD.

I just got home from a demonstration in front of the Phoenix Police Department downtown. Danny Rodriguez' mom was among those leading the chant, "Justicia Ahora". Her heart must be absolutely shredded. I got there pretty la
te, but there were still about 50 people of all ages protesting, most of whom were Latino. There was a feeling of a pretty tight community there, and with the candles and photos of Danny, it was as much a vigil and memorial service as it was a protest.

I've never before heard of someone shooting an unarmed person to death in front of witnesses and just being charged with assault and given a bond - that's extremely dangerous behavior. I see mentally ill people detained in jail for months for competency exams for little more than trespassing - even sent to prison for criminal damage - but the guy who killed Danny made bail in a day.

Understandably, the Maricopa County Attorney's office wants to be sure they have all the facts before leveling more serious charges against
Chrisman - but all the facts that are out thus far suggest that the only time murder is called an assault is when the accused is a cop. I really don't believe that it would take them more than a couple of hours to decide to charge a civilian with some form of murder if he forced his way into someone's home at gunpoint, got into an argument, and took his life when he tried to run away from the confrontation. I don't even think they could get away with calling that manslaughter. That all happened in front of an armed law enforcement officer, too - one who would have drawn his own gun and fired at one of us right there if we did what Chrisman did to Danny. Actually, his gun and handcuffs would have been out as soon as the dog got it, and Danny would still be alive.

If Romley's caution and desire to be responsible about charging this guy readily applied to the rest of us, I could be more patient. But there are
still innocent people in prison his office should be saving, defendants too incompetent to stand trial being incarcerated for petty crimes secondary to the symptoms of their mental illness, and graffitti artists facing over 6 years in prison because the MCAO has decided that's a priority crime which needs to be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law". That's more time for vandalism than this cop will likely ever get for killing someone, though. In fact, a lot of people get more time for hurting themselves than most cops ever get for assaulting, maiming, or killing unarmed civilians in irresponsible exercises of power.

All of that suggests that double standards still exist in the MCAO - which is par for the rest of the country, unfortunately. Oscar Grant was on the ground on his stomach with his hands visible and his killer still only got 4 years in priso
n - which will undoubtedly be knocked down to nothing on appeal, because while it's okay for the rest of us to face being raped and murdered when locked away, it's not okay to put a cop in that position. No matter how criminal their conduct, cops in this country are supposed to be protected from the consequences of incarceration. Meanwhile, Americans execute the mentally retarded when they take responsibility for their crimes, and people with psychiatric disabilities are three times more likely to be incarcerated than hospitalized (and it's not because we're all criminally-inclined). I find that very troubling.

Danny must have feared for his life after Chrisman put that gun to his head then killed his dog - no wonder he went for his bike. As far as I can tell, he hadn't even committed a crime before the scuffle with the cop. What a disturbing message to send the rest of us: "criminal" or not, if you run from the cops they can pepper spray, taser, arrest or even shoot and kill you without consequence. If you don't get away they might still shoot you dead - even if you surrendered peacefully. What are we supposed to do?

Putting on a badge and a uniform alone does not make a person honorable or a champion of justice - SS officers did that all the time, in service to their country. And firing weapons at unarmed civilians is by no means a sign of courage. Other cops should be ashamed of Chrisman wearing their uniform and join us in protest. Instead, of course, they apparently helped bail him out last night, and we've all learned to expect them to persecute his partner for telling the truth. What a sad thing that it's so exceptional for a cop to tell the truth when they witness a another officer commit a crime that the public takes it as commonplace and even has a term for it.

In light of all that, why do the boys in blue get any more the benefit of the doubt than the rest of us in situations like this? We aren't ever really "presumed innocent" by the courts until proven otherwise - as soon as the police decide to charge you, you're pretty much done with and will be coerced into a plea deal - their word, even if it's just an opinion - carries more weight than ours ever does.

If Danny had survived, they'd be charging him with assaulting Chrisman and resisting arrest right now (none of which may have happened if the cops hadn't entered his home in the first place). Then they could have locked him up and he could be tortured and killed by deputies or prison guards, instead, who may not even be charged with a misdemeanor in the aftermath. This is one reason I was so troubled that no charges were brought against those responsible for Marcia Powell's death - even more so that some of those people are getting their jobs back from the State. It emboldens officers of the law all the more to feel free to abuse us, whether we're prisoners, suspects, or even just witnesses.

As Chrisman told Danny when he put the gun to his head to get in the door, they don't really even need warrants. They clearly have plenty of power to do as they please without one. One f my anarchist friends noted that
it seems as if police are becoming more violent these days. I think so as well, and that it coincided with "non-lethal" weapons hitting the market and police consequently choosing to assault people (including those who are suicidal) instead of talking to us when there's a problem. No matter how trivial the reason we were originally questioned we can't even argue with them when they cross the line without risking serious repercussions. We have to fight out the legalities of police conduct in court and just hope they don't damage us or our lives too much before we get that far.

t seems increasingly as if we are at the mercy of everyone wearing a badge - some of us more than others, of course. Since I have freckles and no color and am not living on the street or visibly impoverished, I doubt I'd get shot for refusing to put down my sidewalk chalk when ordered to do so. I drop it as soon as they tell me to, though, because you just never know what will scare or piss one of them off enough to really do harm. Uninitiated citizens who expect the police to be professional and courteous when they become a suspect are in for a rude awakening; they tend to be the ones who get into arguments with bad cops because they make the mistake of expressing indignation over not being treated better. So do folks who have decided they just aren't going to be violated anymore. The cops can violate us all they want - they have us outgunned. Ironic that we're the ones who pay for those weapons, too.

There should be a higher standard of conduct expected of law enforcement officers than the rest of us, not a lower one. They're supposed to be the ones who are trained and paid to keep the public safe - they work for us, but we're supposed to be subservient and submissive, under penalty of death. There's something wrong with that which most people don't seem to notice. That's how fascists gain power - we willingly surrender it to them in exchange for the promise of protection, denying that the scope of power we've given them may come at someone else's expense because we never think it will be ours.

Danny's family and friends plan to be in front of the Phoenix Police Department for the next 7 days, demanding that his killing be treated as such, not just as an assault. Even though I just posted one on this yesterday (at Prison Abolitionist - for some reason I didn't get it up here), I'm posting the article below because it goes into greater depth about other police shootings in the Valley, as well as the commission that's been looking at police brutality. It's actually better than most AZ Republic articles - though that bit about Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson being "detained" was downplayed - I thought that cop cuffed him and actually put his boot on his head until he found out who he was.

Please drop by the PHX PD HQ at 7th Ave and W. Washington Friday, October 8, at 6pm for the next protest. Come again the next day. And the next. Bring chalk. Also mark October 22 on your calendars - that's National Police Brutality Day. If you can't make it to an organized demonstration that day, then chalk some public sidewalks, paint your car's rear window, or write to the County Attorney, Rick Romley, at 301 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix, AZ 85003. A simple "Justicia Ahora" will probably be well understood by then.

--------------from the Arizona Republic--------------------------

Phoenix police officer in fatal shooting arrested

by Michael Ferraresi and Dennis Wagner -

Oct. 7, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

Elvira Fernandez said she called police to teach her son respect after she caught him throwing things at the wall of her south Phoenix trailer.

Fearing the 29-year-old would hit her, she went to a neighbor's house to dial 911.

When Phoenix police Officer Richard Chrisman and another patrolman arrived in response to her domestic-violence call, she asked them to reason with her son. She expected they would issue a warning and cool things down.

Instead, about 15 minutes later, Danny Frank Rodriquez was shot dead inside the trailer. One of the family's dogs was also fatally shot.

And Chrisman now faces felony charges.

"I felt like I made the wrong choice calling the police," Fernandez, 60, told The Republic on Wednesday from a friend's trailer in the same complex where her son was killed Tuesday. "I regret it with everything in my heart."

Chrisman, a nine-year veteran who spent his career patrolling the South Mountain Precinct, was arrested hours after the shooting on suspicion of aggravated assault. Police officials said Wednesday that he could face additional charges, possibly murder.

The other officer on the scene told police investigators that Rodriquez was unarmed and that neither officer faced any serious threat of violence, according to court documents that describe his interview with police investigators.

The south Phoenix shooting came amid ongoing citywide discussion of how police misconduct should be investigated, with a municipal task force scheduled to offer recommendations next month.

Michael Johnson, a former Phoenix homicide detective and the only African-American on the City Council, has called for a civilian review board to provide independent oversight of the city's internal-affairs process, after a March incident in which Johnson was detained by an officer.

Investigators on Wednesday said additional interviews and evidence could lead Maricopa County prosecutors to file more-severe charges.

Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris and Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said they will seek those charges if an autopsy report and additional information reveals that Chrisman abused his authority.

"We must be very careful to do this right," Romley said. "If it has occurred, we better not make a mistake, and the officer should be held accountable like anyone else."

Harris said he couldn't recall an officer being charged with murder or a similar crime in a police shooting in his career of more than 30 years.

National experts on excessive use of force by police said it is rare for an officer to be prosecuted and extremely unusual to see convictions.

David Klinger, author of a book on the subject titled "Into the Kill Zone," said there is no nationwide data, but officers who shoot subjects while on duty are prosecuted less than 2 percent of the time, and most of those wind up being acquitted.

However, when told that the other officer on the scene described the suspect as unarmed and not a threat, Klinger and others said this case may prove to be an exception to the general rule.

"It doesn't look good," noted Klinger, adding that he'd still want to see all the evidence and hear the shooter's statement.

Officer's statements

Investigators said Wednesday that they would examine the sequence of events leading up to the shooting. Those events are described in statements from Officer Sergio Virgillo, a 14-year-veteran, described in court documents:

Chrisman and Virgillo, patrolling in separate vehicles, both responded to the call at 12:20 p.m. Virgillo said Fernandez asked them to go inside the trailer and talk to her son.

When the man refused to let officers in, Virgillo said, Chrisman responded by holding his service weapon to the man's temple and stating that he didn't need a warrant.

Virgillo said Chrisman re-holstered his weapon but that a scuffle ensued inside. The officers attempted to subdue Rodriquez with a Taser and with pepper spray.

Amid the struggle, Virgillo said, Chrisman shot a dog that was barking inside the trailer.

As the struggle continued, Rodriquez tried to leave the trailer on a bicycle and grappled with the officers over the handlebars.

As Rodriquez stood near the bike, Virgillo said, Chrisman raised his gun and fired.

Paramedics declared Rodriquez dead at the scene.

Chrisman, 36, was taken into custody at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Harris said Wednesday that he was unclear on why Chrisman ended up firing shots inside the trailer.

The chief and other police officers described the dog that was shot dead as a pit bull, though relatives and neighbors said the dog was a several-month-old boxer puppy.

Virgillo had told investigators the dog was barking but never threatened the officers.

Chrisman made his initial appearance Wednesday. His bond was set at $150,000.

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, which will represent Chrisman through the internal-affairs investigation, issued a statement of support for the officer, saying the union would help Chrisman's family raise money for bail.

Internal inquiries

Since 2007, Chrisman has faced four internal inquiries handled by the Phoenix Police Professional Standards Bureau - the department's internal-affairs unit.

The cases include an excessive-force allegation in 2009, in addition to complaints about personal conduct and inattention to duty, police records show. Police leaders declined to comment on the nature of the complaints or if Chrisman faced any discipline.

Police in the city's South Mountain Precinct have come under public scrutiny this year by Councilman Johnson and members of the south Phoenix community in the wake of a March incident in which Johnson accused a patrol officer of violating his civil rights during a predawn handcuffing incident outside his home.

Johnson commended Virgillo for "coming forward" and "telling the truth" about the shooting.

Other community leaders also praised Virgillo's actions.

"He needs to be protected from peer scrutiny and publicly commended for his integrity to the sacred oath he lives by," said Adolfo Maldonado, a south Phoenix community activist who sits on the city's police-review task force.

Harris on Wednesday met with nearly 40 south Phoenix community leaders and members of a city-appointed task force designed to come up with recommendations on how the department should better address citizen complaints about police misconduct.

He urged them to remind neighbors and residents to remain calm - to judge the case based on facts, rather than rumors.

"I wanted to assure them . . . that we will investigate this thoroughly, that we have the facts, and that we take the appropriate action based on the facts," Harris said.

Tuesday's south Phoenix slaying is believed to be the first Valley officer-involved shooting in which criminal charges were filed against the officer since a 2002 incident in Chandler.

Chandler Officer Dan Lovelace responded to a report of a woman accused of trying to fill a phony prescription at a pharmacy drive-through. When the woman accelerated in her car, Lovelace fired, killing her.

Lovelace was charged with second-degree murder, though he was acquitted years later.

Phoenix also has seen controversy in the past, including a series of police homicides that prompted public demonstrations. In 1994, a man with no legs named Edward Mallet died in custody when he was placed in a choke hold.

Officers were cleared by internal investigations, but the city lost a wrongful-death suit and wound up paying $5.3 million. One year later, a deranged suspect died in a hail of gunfire - hit by 30 rounds from numerous Phoenix officers. Finally, in 1996, a 16-year-old boy was shot 25 times after he brandished a butcher knife. No officer was charged in any of the slayings.

Recent cases have kept the issue in the news.

Oakland transit Officer Johannes Mehserle, was charged with murder after video evidence showed him shooting Oscar J. Grant III in the back as the suspect lay on the ground. In July, after Mehserle claimed he pulled out his firearm thinking it was a Taser, jurors found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Use-of-force cases

Gene O'Donnell, a professor of law and criminal justice at John Jay College of Law and Criminal Justice, said police, prosecutors, jurors, judges and the public are likely to give an officer the benefit of the doubt in use-of-force cases. The alternative, he said, would be to send a dangerous message to law officers: When in danger, hesitate.

O'Donnell said the question in any police shooting is whether it was reasonable in context, and the law is extremely forgiving. "There's broad interpretations of what's reasonable, including mistakes and tragedies."

Although a shooting may be followed by outbursts from relatives, and even a public outcry, O'Donnell said emotional reactions often yield in the courtroom to the sober understanding of a peace officer's role and dangers. Ultimately, O'Donnell said, jurors must ask themselves, "Do I want to send a cop to prison - make him a felon - for doing the job we sent him to do?"

However, he added, a prosecutor might overcome those obstacles with testimony from a fellow officer, and with the image of an officer holding a gun to a suspect's head. Barbara Attard, a consultant who served as independent police auditor for excessive force cases in San Jose, gasped when portions of the initial report were read to her over the phone.

"There is a thin blue line, and officers are very reluctant to testify against other officers," Attard said. "I think it's going to be a different kind of case than you usually see."

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