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 21, 2011

Prosecuting police violence: MCAO falls short with Gerster, Keesee.

"Prosecute Police Violence"
Maricopa County Central Courthouse, Phoenix.
June 2011

I went to former Maricopa County Sheriff's detention officer Kevin Gerster's sentencing in Maricopa County Superior Court today. He entered a plea deal in August in which the prosecution offered him 6 months in county jail and two years of probation for all his crimes. Both the assaults were ruled as "non-dangerous, non-repetetive", too, which is bullshit. He broke one guy's jaw and five months later beat another prisoner repeatedly. Judge Bill Brotherton took his assaultive behavior and pre-meditated crime (giving a buddy the address of a former prisoner, which the buddy used to find and assault him) more seriously than the prosecutor's office, though, and sent him to jail for a year instead.

In arguing for the judge to follow the plea agreement recommendations, Gerster's attorney cited the mitigating circumstances that ultimately kept the guy from going to prison instead. He has has no prior record, considerable community and family support (two of his former colleagues were present), took responsibility for his actions (he actually reported these incidents to supervisors when they happened and they left him on the job caring for mentally ill prisoners). He won't ever try to work in law enforcement again, and is now driving a cab. She even tried to get his probation fees reduced due to them being a hardship because he has child support payments to meet (the judge wouldn't consider that until he's done with jail).

Gerster himself argued that he had been in a stressful job and was just "caught up in the moment" when he did what he did, and was sincerely remorseful that he had embarrassed his family and his employer (he said little - if anything - about regretting the harm he did to his victims - as well as to the public's trust.)

These excuses didn't go over so well with Brotherton, and Gerster received a stern lecture from him about how he had a higher standard of conduct to meet than non-public servants regardless of stress because of the power he wielded, especially since he was working with "vulnerable" prisoners in the mental health unit. Brotherton pointed out that all of Gerster's criminal actions resulted in people being injured, and that the tampering with criminal records charges involved pre-meditated criminal actions that hurt others. It's a wonder he didn't send him to prison, he was so articulate about why Gerster deserved more than just six months in jail.

But the guy has a young daughter and family members who have suffered through this prosecution and the public shame with him, which is unfortunate for them (his fault, not ours), and Brotherton seemed to really weigh the mitigating factors - some of which I'm sure I don't know about, like the supervisors failing to take action to remove him from his job when it was clear he couldn't handle it. That made me want to see them in court, too, not just Gerster.

I stayed to watch him be put into cuffs by his former colleague, but didn't get the sense of satisfaction that I thought I would from it - I'm still a prison abolitionist, after all, and it's uncomfortable arguing for prison for someone, even a bad cop. For all I know the guy is mentally ill and asked for treatment before he escalated to the level of assaulting vulnerable people. In any case the MCSO was negligent in ignoring his abusive conduct, and should take some responsibility too.

In the end here's what Gerster plead to:

Agg Assault on his first victim (the guy whose jaw he broke in June 2010): Class 6 felony. 2 years probation concurrent with 6 month jail term, and suspended prison sentence (he could face 2 years in prison if he violates his probation);

Agg Assault on his second victim (William Hughes, who has assaulted last November): Class 6 felony. 2 years probation concurrent with 1 year in county jail, and suspended prison sentence (could face two years on this, too);

Unauthorized access to the criminal database and release of information (I'm not sure exactly what this charge was called, but it's a class 1 misdemeanor, down from a felony). 1 year probation concurrent with other sentences; suspended prison sentence (again, this could be 2 years at the ADC if he violates his probation - though he'll be in jail all that year anyway).

I'm still disappointed with the county attorney's office on this - they could not have lost at trial because of the video evidence - the whole world witnessed these assaults on Youtube, so I don't know what their excuse is for being so soft on him, but I'm glad Brotherton wasn't. Just keep in mind folks, that if any of those prisoners were in a position to defend themselves and tried to, they'd be facing a ten year sentence for assault on a peace officer, so don't think I'm calling any of this justice. I wanted him to go to prison - just not bad enough to shout it at the judge.

More troubling to me is that the other assaultive officer caught on video, Alan Keesee, plead guilty to aggravated assault (a class 1 misdemeanor) last month and was sentenced to only 3 months of unsupervised probation. His judge was Gottsfield; the prosecutor of record was Ed Leiter. That's less of a punishment than a friend of mine got for disorderly conduct at a protest - she got 30 days in jail and a year probation. Even I'm facing six months in jail for refusing to vacate a city park - now that's ridiculous.

Finally, a reminder to folks that tomorrow (October 22) is National Day Against Police Brutality: there will be an action at the 4th Avenue Jail at 10am. Join us if you can.

You can find updated Superior Court court records at this link.

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