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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Monday, December 6, 2010

MCSO Abuse of Vulnerable Adults and the Rule of Law


That law being Arizona Revised Statute 13-3623, which is supposed to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse...

William Franklin Hughes III

I did a little research on MCSO detention officers Gerster's and Keesee's victim, William Franklin Hughes III. He was arrested on a couple of different occasions in October for things like criminal damage, disorderly conduct, and indecent exposure. He had only one other prior, according to court records - a charge for possession of marijuana two years ago, for which he did probation.

This is the mugshot of a "vulnerable adult,"
one who wasn't even yet found competent to stand trial

Looking at William's mugshot (directly above), it actually appears he may have been roughed up during one of those recent arrests, but the big smile on his face - and the judges' November 9 order that he have a Rule 11 (competency) hearing - suggests that he is indeed mentally impaired. His attorney appears to have tried to get him released from jail that same day - just before the assault - but the judge denied the motion.

In any event, William was a pre-trial detainee, not a criminal serving a jail sentence, for those of you to whom that matters. He was a nuisance, perhaps, but there's no evidence he posed a real threat to anyone except himself. I suspect that the only reason the judge kept him in jail was because she thought he would be safe there, and might otherwise get in trouble again back out on the street.

Too bad no one with the power to do so decided to protect him in a psychiatric hospital instead.

Some of the news accounts I've read of Gerster and Keesee's assault on William suggest that just before Gerster jumped up on the table and stepped on his neck, the other officers had bent him over the table preparing to remove his handcuffs. Whether or not that was the case, Gerster clearly assaulted a prisoner who was not only restrained but also subdued.

It was also reported that Gerster assaulted William a third time, slamming his head up against the wall out of the view of cameras once he got him into his cell. That left the poor kid not only traumatized but also bruised and bleeding. Even so, the jail staff didn't see fit to get him any medical attention. The guys who were holding William as Gerster repeatedly assaulted him - with the help of Keesee - didn't even try to protect him.

I keep looking at his photos and wondering if they weren't giving him such a hard time because he was smiling or laughing at them. That's just what a lot of mentally disabled people do.

This is an abuser's mugshot...

The excuses Arpaio's new right-hand man, Jerry Sheridan, makes for why they didn't already nail Gerster for breaking another mentally ill prisoner's jaw in June are pathetic: if that was an officer who was assaulted, they would have arrested him within 24 hours - and neither William nor the couple that Gerster's friend attacked (with his help) would have ended up getting hurt by him.

As I see it, that guy's responsible for 3 counts of assault against William, one against Michael Flores (who was naked in 4-point restraints when Gerster attacked him), and conspiracy to to do great bodily harm to his buddy's ex-wife and the former prisoner she was dating (what did he think that guy was going to do with the address he illegally provided him with? Deliver flowers?). Those are all violent crimes - which sure makes him look like a repeat offender.
I don't know how it is that he's out on bond in less than 24 hours, when William apparently didn't even have that option and he didn't hurt a soul.

What turns my stomach the most is that both Gerster and Keesee were responsible for taking care of mentally impaired prisoners - and you know these weren't the only times they abused them, by how casual and public they were about it. It seems like it was just a fluke that they got reported. The fact that they seemed to think they could get away with it indefinitely, even though they had to know they were on candid camera, is pretty disturbing.

Looking at how often staff in the MCSO jails have outright killed prisoners and faced no criminal consequences explains a lot, though. Arizona's big, bad tough-on-crime politicians are always saying that we need to "make an example of criminals", or everyone else with think they can get away with it too. Where were they when the Maricopa County Attorney decided not to prosecute anyone from the Arizona Department of Corrections for Marcia Powell's death?

And where were our representatives and public officials for all of Arpaio's victims of abuse and neglect? I don't recall them demanding that anyone be held accountable for Charles Agster, Scott Norberg, Juan Mendoza Farias, the unborn child of Michelle McCollum, Jose Rodriguez, Steve Cervantes, Jefferson Davis McGee, Eric Vogel, Matthew Creamer, Lance Hawthorne, Clint Yarborough, Kevin Holschlag, Brian Crenshaw...the list goes on and on. What could possibly be taking the feds so long, anyway?

Maybe I missed something, but in all those stories about the MCSO jails I haven't found one case of someone being held criminally responsible for their abuse or neglect.
They murder people in there and get a pass every time. Yet if one of us gets shoved into a police horse during a protest, we're charged with assaulting an officer (even if it was a cop who did the pushing). If the banner we carry bumps someone with a badge and a gun in the midst of a panicking crowd, we face ten years in prison for accosting a public servant with a "deadly weapon" (ironically, that all really happened at an anti-Arpaio demonstration).

And where are those tough-on-crime, big-on-victims'-rights lawmakers and enforcers now, for all those sick, troubled, and despairing prisoners being abused in the custody of the MCSO? Too many of them are busy defending Arpaio's kind of "justice" instead of protecting his victims. Read some of those stories, and tell me how anyone with any ethical foundation at all can justify Arpaio's rule of law. I'm a citizen of this state, a tax-payer, a part of the public that the MCSO is sworn to protect and defend, and I can't help but wonder: what if my brother was in their hands? What if it was me?

What a sad thing it is to fear that someone I love is more likely to get hurt by the police in this state than by almost anyone else they encounter on the street.

It angers me that after all those tragedies - horrible traumas and deaths in his care - Arpaio still makes his devaluation of his prisoners' lives and welfare a point of pride. It's no wonder Flores and William Hughes were assaulted while fully restrained. The "tough" leadership at the MCSO provides a model for officers like Gerster and Keesee to emulate. Tough indeed: only bullies and cowards gang up on and brutalize people in chains, then pat each other on the back for being such brave and noble public servants.
Those men are criminals of the worst kind - the kind empowered by the public's trust.

Most disturbing of all is that sadists like Joe Arpaio constantly get re-elected here, despite their long history of abusing both their power and the people. That tells me there's a real soul-sickness in this place that runs deeper than the state government and the MCSO.

Arizona law - if we are indeed abiding by the almighty "rule of law" in this state - provides extra protection for mentally disabled adults from abuse, yet it doesn't appear as if anyone has the intention of invoking it to protect the people getting brutalized the most. I think those who care about vulnerable adults need to ask Mr. Montgomery at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office why Kevin Gerster and Alan Keesee aren't being prosecuted for class 2 felonies
(dangerous offenses). While you're at it, ask why those officers who were present and failed to protect their mentally ill prisoners from abuse aren't being prosecuted for class 6 felonies (also dangerous offenses) - under the statute below.

For those of you who missed the elections, "Bill Montgomery was elected Maricopa County Attorney in 2010 on a pledge to fight crime, honor victims’ rights, and protect and strengthen our community.
" He was supported wholeheartedly by Joe Arpaio, but let's hold him to the letter of the MCAO creed to "ensure justice for all", anyway. He might just come through for us. If not, then I think we should head for the U.S. District Attorney's office and demand that they charge our rogue local lawmen for federal civil rights violations in criminal court. Otherwise, this abuse won't ever end...

“The power that accompanies a police officer’s badge does not give the officer the right to violate the civil rights of those in his or her custody. The Justice Department will aggressively prosecute any officer who abuses their power and violates the public trust in this way."
Thomas E. Perez
Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division
(on the November 2010 sentencing of former Baltimore officer Gregory Mussmacher to five years in federal prison for assaulting a prisoner)


13-3623. Child or vulnerable adult abuse; emotional abuse; classification; exceptions; definitions

A. Under circumstances likely to produce death or serious physical injury, any person who causes a child or vulnerable adult to suffer physical injury or, having the care or custody of a child or vulnerable adult, who causes or permits the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult to be injured or who causes or permits a child or vulnerable adult to be placed in a situation where the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult is endangered is guilty of an offense as follows:
1. If done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a class 2 felony and if the victim is under fifteen years of age it is punishable pursuant to section 13-705.
2. If done recklessly, the offense is a class 3 felony.
3. If done with criminal negligence, the offense is a class 4 felony.
B. Under circumstances other than those likely to produce death or serious physical injury to a child or vulnerable adult, any person who causes a child or vulnerable adult to suffer physical injury or abuse or, having the care or custody of a child or vulnerable adult, who causes or permits the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult to be injured or who causes or permits a child or vulnerable adult to be placed in a situation where the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult is endangered is guilty of an offense as follows:
1. If done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a class 4 felony.
2. If done recklessly, the offense is a class 5 felony.
3. If done with criminal negligence, the offense is a class 6 felony.
C. For the purposes of subsections A and B of this section, the terms endangered and abuse include but are not limited to circumstances in which a child or vulnerable adult is permitted to enter or remain in any structure or vehicle in which volatile, toxic or flammable chemicals are found or equipment is possessed by any person for the purpose of manufacturing a dangerous drug in violation of section 13-3407, subsection A, paragraph 3 or 4. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, a violation committed under the circumstances described in this subsection does not require that a person have care or custody of the child or vulnerable adult.
D. A person who intentionally or knowingly engages in emotional abuse of a vulnerable adult who is a patient or resident in any setting in which health care, health-related services or assistance with one or more of the activities of daily living is provided or, having the care or custody of a vulnerable adult, who intentionally or knowingly subjects or permits the vulnerable adult to be subjected to emotional abuse is guilty of a class 6 felony.
E. This section does not apply to:
1. A health care provider as defined in section 36-3201 who permits a patient to die or the patient's condition to deteriorate by not providing health care if that patient refuses that care directly or indirectly through a health care directive as defined in section 36-3201, through a surrogate pursuant to section 36-3231 or through a court appointed guardian as provided for in title 14, chapter 5, article 3.
2. A vulnerable adult who is being furnished spiritual treatment through prayer alone and who would not otherwise be considered to be abused, neglected or endangered if medical treatment were being furnished.
F. For the purposes of this section:
1. "Abuse", when used in reference to a child, means abuse as defined in section 8-201, except for those acts in the definition that are declared unlawful by another statute of this title and, when used in reference to a vulnerable adult, means:
(a) Intentional infliction of physical harm.
(b) Injury caused by criminally negligent acts or omissions.
(c) Unlawful imprisonment, as described in section 13-1303.
(d) Sexual abuse or sexual assault.
2. "Child" means an individual who is under eighteen years of age.
3. "Emotional abuse" means a pattern of ridiculing or demeaning a vulnerable adult, making derogatory remarks to a vulnerable adult, verbally harassing a vulnerable adult or threatening to inflict physical or emotional harm on a vulnerable adult.
4. "Physical injury" means the impairment of physical condition and includes any skin bruising, pressure sores, bleeding, failure to thrive, malnutrition, dehydration, burns, fracture of any bone, subdural hematoma, soft tissue swelling, injury to any internal organ or any physical condition that imperils health or welfare.
5. "Serious physical injury" means physical injury that creates a reasonable risk of death or that causes serious or permanent disfigurement, serious impairment of health or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb.
6. "Vulnerable adult" means an individual who is eighteen years of age or older and who is unable to protect himself from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others because of a mental or physical impairment.

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