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 who I've been supporting, Jessie Burlew.
I will miss my work and the people who have supported me - but I have been most especially grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.
I have 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. firstname.lastname@example.org
until all are free -
MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)
Arizona Prison Watch VIOLENCE and SAFETY blog posts
Arizona Prison Watch HEALTH CARE posts
- Corizons Deliberate Indifference: KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!
- Corizon's Deliberate Indifference: Prisoners and Families Fight Back
- The ADA and Disabled Prisoners: RESOURCES
- "DEATH SENTENCE": KPNX's Halloran and whistleblower expose depth of negligence at Corizon/AZ DOC.
- PARSONS v RYAN: AZ DOC health care class action settled!
Miscellaneous Prisoner Rights Resources
US District Court Section 1983 CIVIL RIGHTS COMPLAINT
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Bill Montgomery's Follow-up HERE
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Comprehensive Trial Management Conference
June 9, 2011 - 8:45am
Maricopa County Central Court Building
(W. Jefferson St.)
Maricopa County Courthouse
May 18, 2011
The Comprehensive Trial Management Conference was to be held today (May 18, 2011), but it was pushed back and everything that occurred was done up at the bench, where the public couldn't witness it or determine what was said in the transcripts...I suspect because I had been protesting loudly outside before the hearing, confronting Gerster when he arrived (my taxes paid his salary, after all - and he hurt people in violation of my trust). All I was able to catch Judge Verdin saying to his attorney, who requested that they approach to discuss the case, was that "this is a delicate situation."
Damn straight it is. There are a lot of us mad as hell about what Gerster and fellow officer Alan Keesee did. Gerster and Keesee have more rights as perpetrators of assault than William Hughes has as their victims do now. As some of you may recall, if we, as citizens, are victimized while in custody, we're excluded from the constitutional protections and rights we have when crimes are perpetrated against us in the community, effectively silencing our voice in court proceedings, rights to restitution, etc. if a cop is the perpetrator.
I believe they are buying time for people to forget what Gerster did to us, the rest of his "victims"; chances seem very good that the Maricopa County Attorney is about to offer him a deal. The upcoming trial was cancelled in anticipation of a deal being reached beforehand.
Please contact Bill Montgomery's office and urge that this officer's entire prosecution be made visible and transparent to the public, as he violated us all with the abuse of his office and the assaults on his prisoners.
Remind him that Gerster assaulted at least two "VULNERABLE adults" in custody (making him a repeat, violent offender), and could have been charged with class 2 (not the lower class 6) felonies for that, and must not be allowed to walk with anything less than felony charges and prison time if they give him a deal.
Mr. Bill Montgomery
Maricopa County Attorney
301 W. Jefferson St. PHX 85003
I'd appreciate copies of your letters to post publicly. Send them to:
Peggy Plews / PO Box 20494 /PHX, AZ 85036
Please also express your continued outrage over the conduct of MCSO officers, and your desire to see justice served, to:
Editor, Arizona Republic / P.O. Box 1950 /Phoenix, AZ 85001
Finally, I looked up the status of William Franklin Hughes III's case. The MCAO still appears to be prosecuting him for the petty offenses (like criminal damage and indecent exposure - most likely secondary to the symptoms of his mental illness) that landed him in Gerster's and Keesee's pre-trial "care" in the psychiatric wing of the county jail in the first place...he was even ordered to undergo competency exams by the judge before they would proceed any further. I don't understand why he's going on trial, given what Montgomery had to say recently about the need to divert these folks from prosecution in the first place. I just discovered that his trial was supposed to begin this am, which I missed.
You would think the MCAO would recognize the beatings he received in jail as punishment enough - and poor William was out of his mind when he got pounded on by those guys. So, folks, please also ask Mr. Montgomery what the deal is with William's prosecution. Those are our tax dollars he's eating up in this unnecessary and cruel endeavor to punish a young man who was already terribly traumatized in custody over "crimes" that really hurt no one else...
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
This problem of not clearing serious violent crimes has been on-going, placing the community at real risk while Arpaio spends all his time and heavy equipment chasing down unarmed, undocumented people instead (because the feds will pay to jail them by the head, whewreas we have to pay to incarcerate our real criminal citizens ourselves...see why immigration enforcement should be left to the Feds, not petty little vindictive men?
Tell me that isn't a racist agenda that trumps the priorities of assuring public safety; the evidence is pretty clear that Arpaio doesn't - and never has - understand his fundamental duties to the people as the County Sheriff. Unfortunately, the sheep who keep voting for him also don't have the least bit of a clue as to what he does or should do, since they get all their leadership and bright ideas about punishment from him.
In a statement to ABC15, MCSO concedes that investigators “re-opened over 500 sex crime cases dating back to 2005.”
The statement goes on to say, “Over of the course of the [special victims unit] audit, over 400 cases were found to be lacking in investigative efforts," and “no personnel associated with this case has been held accountable or disciplined.”
The statement also references the following:
"The current status of the IA investigation into MCSO’s SVU is in the “Findings” stage.” All personnel associated with the case have been interviewed and the case is being reviewed for all possible policy violations. If and when any policy violations for employees are “Sustained” in this case, appropriate action will be taken."
Read the full statement
INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION
An internal affairs investigation was opened after the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office received a complaint in 2008 from the city of El Mirage about dozens of child sex crimes cases that had been assigned to the MCSO special victims unit.
Prior to October of 2007, El Mirage contracted with MCSO to handle its sex crimes cases.
The complaint from El Mirage stated that 43 of the 51 cases "had not been worked at all, or had minimal follow up conducted," even though "many of the cases had known suspects" and "more than 90% of the cases had workable leads."
Most of the cases involved small children and young teens.
A Pinal County Sheriff’s Office investigation into MCSO uncovered that Chief Deputy David Hendershott shut down the special victims unit internal affairs investigation in the spring of 2009.
WHO IS SERGEANT SEAGRAVES?
Documents state the internal affairs investigation was stopped because the woman leading the unit, Sgt. Kim Seagraves, was a key witness for MCSO in two other trials and Hendershott feared the internal affairs investigation would make Seagraves appear incompetent.
“Hendershott did not want negative information about Seagraves becoming an issue … Let’s not smear her while the office is potentially going to get litigated," the documents read.
The internal affairs investigation into MCSO’s SVU was reopened in September of 2010 after Hendershott was placed on administrative leave.
The lead investigator for MCSO did identify Seagraves as the principal lead into “whether there had been misconduct, negligence or incompetence” when it came to the sex crimes unit.
One employee described the SVU as a “rat’s nest” and stated that Seagraves had “dropped the ball.”
CLEARING THE CASES BY 'EXCEPTIONAL MEANS'
“The 32 cases you shared with me, many of them involved young children, teenagers, who either they, or their parents, made reports and nothing was ever done," said criminologist Cassia Spohn. "Presumably there are individuals who have committed heinous crimes and have not been brought to justice.”
Spohn is a professor at ASU’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Department who is currently researching how law enforcement clears sexual assault cases.
“I think the most egregious fact is that it seems clear that the Sheriff's department simply did not take these cases seriously, they did not do an investigation. It’s not that they didn't do a thorough investigation, it appears that they did not investigate these crimes at all and that to me is a miscarriage of justice.”
We showed her the documents, including a paragraph where an employee tells a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office investigator that Sgt. Seagraves lessened her case load by clearing the cases by "exceptional means".
"Many of the cases were just exceptionally cleared, and she just went ahead and signed off on them and certainly, what she did is she lessened the case load down to something that was at least acceptable to Captain Whitney. And therein lies the problem," Spohn said. "Apparently, many of the cases that were cleared or exceptionally cleared, were the ones that needed to be worked and just hadn’t been worked ... she sent out the directive and the email is pretty clear that, if the cases can’t be worked, you know, let’s clear them up, let’s inactive them, at least at this point and time, if there’s no more leads to follow up on.”
Law enforcement can clear or close a case in two ways: by arrest or by exceptional means.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program outlines the four specific criteria needed to justify using an “exceptional clearance” of a case.
MCSO spokeswoman Lisa Allen told me that MCSO does follow the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting guidelines.
She said whether or not Seagraves, or any other MCSO employee, ignored those guidelines is something that is the subject of the current Internal Affairs investigation into the Special Victims Unit.
Spohn told us, “If in fact the head of the Special Victims Unit ordered detectives to exceptionally clear cases that had not been investigated, that clearly was an abuse of power.”
On Monday morning, FBI spokesman Bill Carter told me they group "cleared by arrest" in the same category as "cleared by exception".
SEAGRAVES PRAISED AND PROMOTED
Sgt. Seagraves was promoted to Lieutenant in 2008.
“What is the accountability when sex crimes cases are ignored?" asked Elizabeth Ditlevson of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Allen told me they are looking into how many arrests were made after they reopened hundreds of cases for further review.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Parole debate points to rising medical costs.
By Renee Lee/
Updated 11:56 p.m., Sunday, May 15, 2011
A growing population of elderly inmates is driving up prison medical care costs to the point that some Texas lawmakers would like to see more of those who are feeble and chronically ill released early.
In the last decade, the number of inmates 55 and older has spiked as much as 8 percent each year, growing to about 12,500, while the general inmate population has remained fairly flat.
In prisons throughout the country, inmates grow old serving longer sentences and enter prison at an older age. Between 1999 and 2008, the number of inmates 55 and older in state and federal prisons increased by 76 percent to 76,400 inmates, according to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The general population grew by 18 percent.
With rising medical care costs and dwindling state budgets, policy-makers and prison officials have struggled to keep pace. Elderly inmates in Texas make up 8 percent of the state's prison population, yet they account for more than 30 percent of prison hospitalization costs.
In fiscal year 2010, the state spent more than $545 million on inmate health care. It paid $4,853 per elderly offender for inpatient and outpatient care compared with $795 for inmates under 55, according to the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee.
Legislators this session considered a bill that would have required release of certain elderly and sick inmates to community settings, such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Outside prison, many inmates would qualify for Medicaid, lessening the state's financial burden.
The legislation died after failing to make last week's calendar deadline. But lawmakers grapple with the issue every session. Inmates are constitutionally entitled to receive medical care, so states must balance the quality of care with its cost.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said he would like to see prison space freed up for more dangerous criminals and the cost savings used for law enforcement.
“We certainly need to continue to be sensitive and smart about who becomes old and invalid and doesn't pose a public danger,” Whitmire said. “In times of fiscal concern, we're spending $1 million or more on inmates who can't get out of bed or are really sick individuals. It's just nuts.”
Research shows that most elderly offenders experience an average of three chronic illnesses while incarcerated. Among the most common are arthritis, hypertension, ulcers, heart attacks, diabetes, hepatitis C and cancer, according to the National Institute of Corrections.
Many prisons are not properly equipped to care for the elderly, said Robert Aday, a professor at Middle Tennessee State University and author of a book on aging prisoners. Some states group them in special needs facilities or in centralized geriatric wings to reduce medical costs, he said.
“The sheer numbers are overwhelming them,” Aday said. “A convergence of trends, including enhanced sentencing, more prisons built, and the graying of American people, it's created this crisis.”
In Texas, more than 1,000 offenders are identified each year as being eligible for medical parole, according to a Legislative Budget Board report. About a third of those are processed and presented to the state parole board, which approves 25 percent of those cases each year. Since 1991, 1,287 offenders have been released under the program — about 64 prisoners per year, the report said.
May 16, 2011
The Ballad of Alvaro Luna Hernandez
By MAX B. KANTAR
"I will never surrender my pride and dignity nor allow the system to 'cut my tongue' and I will always, without fear, speak out against these war crimes and crimes against humanity, no matter if I spend the rest of my life in a prison cage, and draw my last brea
th of air laying down in this steel bed surrounded by razor-wire fences and cages, and its prison policies that are designed to destroy one's humanity…."
—Alvaro Luna Hernandez, October 18, 2010, Hughes Unit Prison, Gatesville, Texas.
Locked in solitary confinement in a tiny cage inside one of the most notorious control units in the Texas state prison system, Alvaro Luna Hernandez is immersed in a stack of old law texts, his eyes glancing back and forth between court transcripts and a thick legal book every few moments. The streaks of gray in his full, and otherwise dark, beard betray his age in spite of his healthy, powerful frame as he reaches towards the ledge of the sink for a lone Styrofoam cup to take a sip of the stale, lukewarm commissary-bought coffee he drinks every morning, when he can afford it.
Just fifteen months shy of 60 years old, Alvaro has a remarkable amount of energy and routinely gets more work done before noon than most attorneys do in an entire day. Today he's putting together the documents to get a new trial on a writ of habeas corpus proceeding for another prisoner who is both indigent and illiterate and feels he has been wrongly imprisoned. After that, it's on to the cases of two other inmates Alvaro is helping out who are each facing several decades behind bars if their appeals fall through before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin. Other prisoners know to go to Alvaro for legal help; he has a well-known reputation throughout the state—indeed nationwide, as highlighted in the recent book Jailhouse Lawyers (City Lights: 2009) by Mumia Abu-Jamal—as a tenacious and effective "jailhouse lawyer" who has filed and won no small number of civil rights suits over the past four decades.
* * *
Alvaro Luna Hernandez is a political prisoner of the State of Texas and the U.S. government. He is nearly 15 years into a 50 year prison sentence for an "aggravated assault" conviction stemming from a July 1996 incident in which he disarmed a Brewster County Sheriff attempting to shoot him. Alvaro vehemently denies the charge that he assaulted the Sheriff. To Mexican-Americans in the cities, slums, plains, deserts, and prison cages of the Southwest, he is a civil rights hero, a Chicano freedom fighter true to his barrio roots and eternally fearless in the face of injustice. For years, he has been internationally recognized by amnesty movements and human rights lawyers and experts as a U.S. political prisoner, yet inside the United States, the name Alvaro Luna Hernandez remains largely elusive on the lips of progressives and social justice advocates.
* * *
A high-school dropout with no formal education, Alvaro hasn't always been such a capable, and indeed, brilliant, litigator. It was during the late 1970s that he transformed himself from a rebellious, zoot suit-wearing "pachuco" hustler in his youth into a prominent leader in the struggle for racial justice and human rights in the Southwest United States. While serving hard time for a crime he didn't commit, Alvaro educated himself about Chicano history, the prison system, and revolutionary political theory. He founded and headed up prisoners' study groups designed to rehabilitate and politicize other inmates.
With Alvaro in the lead, a powerful prison reform movement swept across Texas' criminal justice system and through the state's federal courthouses in the late 1970s and early '80s. Alvaro diligently studied the law and used his newly found skills to file an impressive array of constitutional and civil rights lawsuits against Texas police, judges, and prison officials. He and other prisoners utilized hunger strikes, work stoppages, yard takeovers, and federal civil rights lawsuits in a concerted effort to compel the brutal Texas prison machine to respect the human rights of its exploding prison population, made up almost entirely of poor men of color. Along with a handful of other prisoner-plaintiffs, Alvaro won a landmark federal civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Department of Corrections (TDC) after a trial that lasted 159 days in 1978 and '79 (Ruiz v. Estelle). The court ruled, in a scathing denunciation of the widespread abuse of inmates by the prison system, that the practices of the TDC constituted "cruel and unusual punishment," and ordered a number of substantial reforms.
"Unfortunately," Alvaro says, "most of these 'reforms' were merely cosmetic….Despite these 'prisoner victories' in reforming the system, the federal-nation-state will only go so far because in Texas, the super profits of the state policy of mass incarceration has replaced oil, cotton, and cattle [as the biggest industry in the state]."
Alvaro's principled work to rehabilitate prisoners and enforce human rights standards in Texas prisons earned him the disdain and contempt of prison officials who locked him in administrative segregation, forcing Alvaro to spend almost the entire decade of the 1980s in solitary confinement as part of a campaign of repression aimed at political prisoners and jailhouse lawyers who threatened to expose abuses in U.S. prisons—including torture, killings, and beatings at the hands, or directions, of prison guards and administrators—and unite inmates under a banner of revolutionary change.
* * *
In March 1991, one year after he was moved out of solitary and back into the general prison population, Alvaro was freed from prison, having served over 15 years, after an investigative journalist for the Houston Post, Paul Harasim, uncovered a gross pattern of systematic prosecutorial misconduct and abuse (which included paying off the lead witness and suppressing physical evidence) in the murder case in which Alvaro was wrongfully convicted, narrowly escaping the electric chair. Certainly no bleeding heart liberal, Harasim nonetheless told readers that "What I learned about the prosecutorial behavior in the trial of Alvaro Hernandez in West Texas made my stomach turn….I wonder if I can support state sanctioned executions any longer."
Settling in Houston with his wife following his release, Alvaro wasted no time throwing himself into community organizing and political activism. He founded, and became National Executive Director of, the National Movement of La Raza, a civil and human rights group dedicated to empowering Mexican-Americans and struggling for social justice. Alvaro also helped organize and form committees to support the families of prisoners and bring about "truces" between Chicano street gangs in Pasadena, Texas following a number of tragic shootings. Spearheading the campaign to stop the execution of Mexican national, Ricardo Aldape Guerra, Alvaro founded and headed up Guerra's defense committee. Following years of tireless campaigning and legal battles, his frame-up conviction for killing a Houston cop in 1982 was overturned and Guerra was freed from Texas' Death Row in 1997.
Alvaro's impassioned and successful activism in the Houston area earned him international recognition. In the spring of 1993, serving as a delegate for an NGO, Alvaro addressed the United Nations General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, criticizing the U.S. government for its record of human rights abuses of political prisoners and Mexicans in the Southwest. Alvaro's delegation was headed by Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her courageous human rights activism during the U.S.-backed genocide against Mayan peasants in Guatemala during the 1980s. Upon returning from Europe, Alvaro was invited to speak on national television in connection with the Ricardo Aldape Guerra defense case and began hosting Houston-area radio talk shows tospread a message of racial equality and Chicano empowerment. In the following years, Alvaro worked to inspire and educate young people across the United States, speaking not only at universities and conferences, but also at elementary and high schools, lecturing on an array of social and political issues ranging from human rights and grassroots activism, to American history, the criminal justice system, and the death penalty.
* * *
Following his divorce in August 1995, Alvaro moved back to his hometown of Alpine, Texas, located just 80 miles from the Mexican border. In spite of the fact that Alvaro had virtually zero interactions or confrontations with police in the five and a half years that he lived in Houston, almost immediately the local police forces in Alpine were all over him—arbitrary searches day and night, K-9 drug dogs, and frequent "traffic violation" vehicle stops resulting in no citations.
The police hatred of Alvaro in West Texas, especially in Alpine, is fierce, both personal and political, and decades old. Alvaro has always refused to submit to police authority and abuse; sort of like a rebellious slave in the spirit of Fredrick Douglas, but more like a modern-day Gregorio Cortez. When he was 17 he smashed up some police squad cars as well as the personal vehicle of a racist Sheriff following a police confrontation, a stunt which landed him three years in prison. Years later, in 1976 following an escape from county jail—at which he was awaiting transfer to state prison for the wrongful murder conviction—and subsequent shootout with law enforcement, Alvaro was taken to a windowless "conference room" in the jail where he was beaten within an inch of his life by several on-duty police officers. The cops took turns beating and stomping their handcuffed captive, causing him to lose consciousness, his face, eyes, and lips swollen and bloodied beyond recognition, his scalp ripped open with blood pouring from his head onto the cold concrete floor. Once the police were finished, they dragged a bloodied and unconscious Alvaro across the jail and threw him in a cell, leaving him for dead. The near fatal beating meted out to Alvaro resulted in federal criminal civil rights indictments of Pecos County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Hill and Deputy Sheriff Bill Mabe, culminating in misdemeanor convictions and probation for the officers. For his part, Alvaro was awarded substantial monetary compensation for damages following a civil suit. The convictions of the officers, however mild, ultimately destroyed their careers as policemen, thus earning Alvaro a special animosity in local law enforcement circles for daring to fight back against police on their own terms, both in the streets and in the courts.
Alvaro's persistent defiance against oppression has always stemmed from a deep-rooted thirst for the freedom so cruelly denied to him and millions of other Chicanos in the Southwest United States since the colonization and annexation of the Mexican territories north of the Rio Grande following what is commonly known as the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848). In a very real sense, the rural West Texas community of Alpine is like a microcosm of race-relations in the region. Like all of Alpine's Chicano residents, Alvaro grew up on the south side of the Southern Pacific railroad tracks which served as the de facto racial dividing line between Mexican-Americans and whites. Much like the Jim Crow South at the time, the parallel social universe of rural West Texas manifested harsh economic and political means of control to ensure the subordinate position of Mexicans in an Anglo-dominated society. The town's Mexican population was largely impoverished, locked into a near-permanent state of economic subservience to white business interests while the gross disparity in social services and infrastructure served as a very visible reminder of the prevailing racial hierarchy, not only in Alpine, but in the American Southwest in general.
The Alpine police and the Brewster County Sheriff's office were, of course, all white and patrolled the Chicano barrio south of the tracks daily and nightly with a brutality usually reserved only for the town's "meskins."
"People were scared of them," Alvaro writes in a letter from his prison cell, recalling how as a young boy he would go looking for his father or grandfather in the local bars, the Sheriff would often barge in, gun on his hip, to intimidate, arrest, and humiliate Chicano men and elders simply as a means of letting them know "who was boss."
Whether at the pool hall or walking the streets, Chicano youth were routinely singled out for arbitrary beatings and harassment by the cops. Alvaro was a tough kid, a self-proclaimed "vato loco" and product of the "pachuco" subculture. He was often getting into trouble for drinking beer or fighting, and had many violent confrontations with police as a teenager. Once at a high school football game some policemen were trying to arrest another Mexican kid and started beating the young man; Alvaro intervened to stop the assault and the cops turned their attention, and rage, to him, beating and pistol whipping young Alvaro as a hostile crowd gathered around, throwing garbage at the officers. The police busted open his skull, requiring several stitches, but not before taking him to jail, charging Alvaro with "assault on a peace officer." Alvaro's run-ins withthe police landed him, at the age of 15, in a juvenile prison run by the Texas Youth Council (TYC) for a year. The juvenile detention centers in Texas had reputations for being extremely brutal and abusive—so much so that the Texas Youth Council was ultimately shut down by federal courts in 1983 following over a decade of lawsuits.
* * *
Just months after getting released from the custody of the TYC, something happened that would change Alvaro's life forever. It was June 12, 1968. Alvaro was hanging out with his best friend, Ervay Ramos. The two buddies were cruising around Alpine in Ervay's brother's car when red police lights started flashing in the rear view mirror. Ervay was, like Alvaro, 16 years old, but didn't have a valid driver's license. He sped off and the police car gave chase. Fishtailing through a back alley with the wail of the siren growing louder in the distance, Ervay quickly stopped and told Alvaro to jump out of the car. He drove off and struck a nearby fence next to the football practice fields and landed in a ditch. With the cop car getting closer, Ramos jumped out of the car and ran down the alleyway hoping to escape. Alvaro was just feet away and saw with his own eyes what transpired next.
"The police car, driven by Bud Powers, a well-known cop with a reputation in the barrio for being racist and brutal, pulled up and stopped [behind] the Ramos car," Alvaro vividly recalls. "[Powers] stepped outside, pulled his revolver and shot the fleeing Ramos in the back with his .357 magnum pistol killing him instantly."
The murder of Ervay Ramos was one of a number of similar killings of Chicano youth by police in the Southwest at the time. Officer Bud Powers received a proverbial slap on the wrist—five years' probation—and never served a day in jail. The killing of Ervay Ramos was cited by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in their 1970 report to the President entitled "Mexican Americans and the Administration of Justice in the Southwest" as one of several examples of what the Commission referred to as a pattern of "serious police brutality" and "widespread discrimination" suffered by Mexican-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers and the U.S. judicial system in the Southwest United States.
* * *
So when Alvaro moved back to Alpine in 1995 with political struggle and courtroom justice for his slain childhood friend on his mind, he was met with considerable police opposition. He was working as a freelance paralegal for attorneys throughout the state when Alpine community members began approaching him for help regarding police brutality and other injustices in town. They had seen Alvaro on television when he was in Houston, working against the death penalty and police oppression. They knew about his impressive record of civil rights activism and how he had litigated a number of successful federal and state civil rights lawsuits against Texas police, judges, and prison officials. Moreover, citizens sought out Alvaro for help because, in addition to being a prominent public critic of racial and social inequalities in Alpine, it was well known—both by the general public, as well as by law enforcement—that he was working on re-opening the 1968 Ervay Ramos murder case with the intention of bringing his killer, policeman Bud Powers, into federal court on murder charges.
The response of the Alpine police to all of this was to organize and carry out a sophisticated campaign, in the spirit of the F.B.I.'s "counter intelligence program" (COINTELPRO) of the 1960s and '70s, of surveillance, harassment, and repression against Alvaro. They hired a local heroin addict, Mary Valencia, to work as a police informant, ransacking his legal files and personal belongings while working as a maid at the motel he was staying at. Police followed him around, subjecting him to unjustified searches and harassment.
Worse yet, the police convinced the father-in-law of an Alpine Police Sergeant—a man who was known around Alpine as a local town drunk—to falsely accuse Alvaro of armed robbery—a ridiculous frame-up charge which Alvaro ultimately ended up getting dismissed in court while acting as his own attorney. In the meantime, however, Alvaro bonded out of jail by selling his car to the bail bondsman, but just weeks later the bondsman "withdrew" from the bond, unbeknownst to Alvaro at the time.
* * *
On July 18, 1996 Sheriff Jack McDaniel showed up on Alvaro's doorstep looking to re-arrest him. Brewster County's new sheriff was far from an anonymous cop just "doing his job." McDaniel had been cited in a victorious civil rights lawsuit filed by Alvaro against then-Sheriff Jim Skinner a few years back. Moreover, it was no secret around town that Alvaro was investigating Sheriff McDaniel for corruption and embezzlement of funds from the county treasury—funds that Alvaro alleged were being used at McDaniel's private ranch in West Alpine. Coupled with his work on re-opening the Ramos case and his long history of resistance to local police power, Alvaro argues that the prerogative of the cops was clear: "The police all knew what I was up to and they were determined to stop me at all costs."
When questioned on the legality of the arrest—for which no warrant was presented—an enraged McDaniel pulled his gun on Alvaro. Fearing quite literally for his life, Alvaro disarmed the Sheriff in self-defense before he could shoot, told McDaniel to leave, and then fled the scene. Nobody was injured. For three days Alvaro was able to evade law enforcement in the rugged countryside of Brewster County during the course of what was one of the most massive manhunts in recent West Texas history. Following a shootout with police at his mother's house, Alvaro was captured and charged with two counts of aggravated assault; one for allegedly pointing the gun at Sheriff McDaniel after disarming him, and another count for allegedly shooting an officer, Curtis Hines, in the hand during the shootout.
At the trial, witnesses testified that Alvaro never pointed the gun at McDaniel. McDaniel accused Alvaro of pointing the gun at his chest—threatening him with a deadly weapon—but Alvaro swears this is a lie. In a live interview on local television on July 18th following the confrontation at Alvaro's house, McDaniel told viewers that Alvaro had only disarmed him and neither threatened nor shot him.
"Days later," Alvaro explains, "when the Sheriff met with the District Attorney he changed his story to say that I had not only disarmed him but had pointed the gun at him—the difference between a minor misdemeanor and a first degree felony offense." The videotape was ultimately kept out of court proceedings; Alvaro's lawyer Tony Chavez is rumored to have potentially struck a backdoor deal with the prosecution. At the time, Chavez was under investigation himself for drug trafficking and was facing many years in prison under a plethora of forthcoming RICO charges. In fact, just months after Alvaro's trial, Chavez immediately took a plea bargain and was sent to federal prison for 30 months and disbarred from the practice of law.
Throughout the trial numerous witnesses, including former law enforcement officers, also testified to the intense, longstanding police hatred of Alvaro. Alvaro was found not guilty on the second count of shooting Officer Hines in the hand (it was determined that Hines was hit by a ricocheting police bullet). Despite considerable public protest, however, the nearly-all-white jury found Alvaro guilty of "aggravated assault" for allegedly pointing the gun at McDaniel's chest—an accusation which Alvaro vociferously and consistently denies to this day.
Alvaro Luna Hernandez was sentenced to 50 years in state prison in the summer of 1997. He will not be officially "eligible" for parole until 2021.
* * *
Though his appeals have all been exhausted, options still remain within the legal system to bring about Alvaro's release. The KOSA TV videotape interview with McDaniel may still exist, and a full review of federal, state, and local files pertaining to Alvaro, and his ex-lawyer Chavez, is likely to shed light on Alvaro's conviction and political imprisonment. Obtaining the pro bono assistance of one or more bright legal minds to help pursue other existing, and very promising, legal avenues to reenter the courts continues to be a top priority and a potential source of hope.
There is one thing, however, that remains clear and undisputed: absent a substantial popular mobilization and grassroots campaign pushing for his freedom, Alvaro faces a virtual life sentence of incarceration in the brutal control units of Texas' state prisons. Yet in the meantime, although buried deep beneath the razor-wire fences, uncounted tons of cold steel, and the rows of soul-destroying concrete cages of Hughes Unit Prison, Alvaro Luna Hernandez remains among America's most fearless political prisoners, incessantly struggling for freedom, locked up but never defeated.
Max Kantar is a Michigan-based independent writer and the Midwest representative for the Committee to Free Alvaro Luna Hernandez. For more information on Alvaro's case, visit www.freealvaro.net. Max can be reached at email@example.com.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
(May 9, 2011)
(read that first, folks)
ACLU-AZ: "Demolish the Prisons"
Prisoner Names Project
April 25, 2011
---stolen from Carl Toersbijns' blog. Read it daily to keep up on the ADC---
In writing an open letter addressing the abuses of inmates by employees working for the Arizona Department of Corrections, you, as the prison director omitted much information during your recent attempt to illustrate compliance with guidelines and responsibilities already in policies and procedures and still not being followed. You are obviously failing as you are trying to reinforce your position on this matter but appear to be falling on the deaf ears of your own wardens. An obvious attempt to cover your own administrative weaknesses and shifting the blame of these abuses to others, you are continuing a strategy of plausible deniability and credibility within your own agency and expectations of subordinates.
According to Wikipedia, "plausible deniability" refers to the denial of blame in loose and informal chains of command where upper rungs quarantine the blame to the lower rungs, and the lower rungs are often inaccessible, meaning confirming responsibility for the action is nearly impossible These positions of "power" and "authority" must stay "clean" and be in a position to denounce any unethical approaches or innuendoes that impacts their own sovereignty and domain. Such is the case where you point the finger at someone else and act like you condemn their actions but in all reality, you endorsed it through several means provided in a chain of command that is intact by careful grooming and selection of those individuals hand-picked for such tasks. In other words, you must "walk the talk" to be a solid role model and it appears your rogue wardens are doing their own walking and talking behind close doors contrary to your expectations of program delivery and soundness of operational issues. Because they work for you, I, along with many others, blame you for failure to supervise issues.
In your most recent open letter paragraph titled Abuse of Inmates and dated May 9, 2011, I find it curious that it states that '"Abuses of inmates by anyone in the Arizona Department of Corrections is never acceptable or justified." You opportunely avoid the subject of unusually high prison deaths that are listed either as natural, suicide or homicides yet they are the highest ever. You also avoid mentioning the private prison contractors who do not report any statistics on such events and are not obligated via contract or any other means to collect such data for statistical purposes available to the ADOC and the public. I am sure that if there was a level of transparency here, your words would be more trustful regarding their operational status and efficiency to the taxpayers. You go on by writing "It is the responsibility of all employees to ensure that the inmate population is managed and controlled in a manner that is both professional and requires the minimal force necessary to maintain control. You wrap this deniability approach by stating that "It is not acceptable or reassuring that a supervisor's or manager's response was they "did not know" what was going on in their unit when you stated the very same comment when the Kingman prison escape security report was released and identified so many security deficiencies right under your direct command.
More generally, "plausible deniability / credibility" can also apply to any act that leaves little or no evidence of wrongdoing or abuse. In a prison setting, this could range from physical and psychological abuses through misguided management practices, tacit approval for excessive force. You also deliberately omit other known inmate abuses in this letter as you cite a case out of ASPC- Florence and another out of ASPC-Lewis to strengthen your position on the "good job" closing.
It is true that many of the agencies employees are doing good or great work and that is important to be recognized. However, although strong and driven to excel, they are getting their most of their work done through multi-tasking and forming shortcuts to be in compliance. This achievement is not without hindrance from you administrators and their lack of support to do a good job. Your circle of influence that surrounds your decision making mechanism is flawed as many have their own agendas and not in step with your policies or expectations. You can deny this all you want but recent security audits revealed that even after your "stricter" controls and oversight of the Kingman prison, two of your own state prisons reflected the same problems found in Kingman nine months after your directive to correct these "flaws." This falls on the wardens and deputy wardens for not following your orders to make prisons safer for the public.
Clearly an attempt to circumvent the horrific events such as "preventable suicides" in ASPC Tucson and ASPC Eyman and less than acceptable medical conduct that contributes to "natural deaths" within the prison, I am appalled that you continue this crusade to blame everybody else but yourself for the agency's shortcomings. Plausible deniability is a legal concept. It refers to lack of evidence proving an allegation. In civil cases, the standard of proof is "preponderance of the evidence" whereas in a criminal matter, the standard is "beyond a reasonable doubt."
It is highly likely because of so many incidents of staff mistakes [misconduct] and poor decision making by command staff , the agency will continue to pay out court settlements to inmates who have been subject to these acts considered "abused" and sue for the agency's mistakes and misconduct. Your letter only incited more fear and more intimidation into the workplace. You have shown by selective enforcement methods and through careful dissection of the facts you do not care if your wardens don't follow your words to provide proper custodial care and operational soundness. Your sanctions imposed to these administrators are mild compared to line staff and illustrates a desire to protect them as they protect you. In fact, I suspect you are facing several lawsuits at the moment that will embarrass you and your administration when it gets aired on the media evening news in due time.
Disclaimer: this article does not reflect the opinions of the web site Thunder Rolls Inc. where this link is located.
Link to open letter from Charles Ryan to ADC Employees dated May 9, 2011:
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
529 14th St, NW
1:00pm - 2:00pm
Created by: Hepatitis C - Caring Ambassadors Program
It is our pleasure to invite you to join HHS Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh and other HHS officials on Thursday, May 12, 2011 as they announce the new
Though hepatitis is a leading cause of death in the U.S., many people who have it don’t know they are infected, so they are at greater risk for severe – or even fatal – complications of the disease, and at greater risk of unwittingly spreading the virus to others.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is committed to ensuring that new cases of viral hepatitis are prevented and that persons who are already infected are tested, informed about their infection, and provided with counseling, care, and treatment. Comprehensive and sustained efforts are necessary to effectively eliminate this epidemic. Please join HHS officials and community representatives as they discuss the actions necessary to achieve this goal.
Howard K. Koh, M.D., M.P.H., HHS Assistant Secretary for Health
Kevin Fenton, M.D., Ph.D., FFPH, Director, National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Jim Macrae, M.A., M.P.P., Associate Administrator for Primary Health Care, Health Resources and Services Administration
Michael Ninburg, Community Perspective
Su Wang, M.D., Provider Perspective
Thursday, May 12, 2011
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET
The National Press Club
First Amendment Lounge, 13th Floor
529 14th St, NW
Washington, DC 20045
To attend the event in person, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5:00 p.m. Monday, May 9, 2011.
The event will also be webcast live at: http://www.visualwebcaster
One of the hardest, yet most profoundly meaningful, aspects of the work I do is to bear witness to the suffering of others and help them amplify their voices in any number of ways, in hopes that the rest of us are moved enough by them to change the trajectory we're on.
This is the grief of the parents of Susan Lopez, going into this past family-oriented weekend. Soon it will be their first Father's Day without her, each of her kid's birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the anniversaries of her birth, and of her death...
"When Jesus was a prisoner"
Matthew ch 25: v 35
Thank you, Sammy and Gina, for sharing this with us. Our condolences to the entire family.
-----------------left with broken hearts #2------------
A few years ago, my husband and I, together with Susan and her husband Rick, built a beautiful horse corral. I bought a mare, and someone gave us this big black gelding. Susan loved him. One day I went outside our 2 1/2 acre home, and I saw Susan on top of Moose, Rick leading the horse with a rope. I couldn`t believe what I saw, Susan riding Moose! She looked like a giant, but she was so happy, it seemed like nothing in the world mattered. Rick looked nervous, and would tell her "come on get down, get down!"
She loved horses like her mom. She loved cats, they were her life. She hated when anyone messed with them. She loved to look at the stars, and loved Jesus with all her heart. Our hobby was taking care of the horses; me and Susan would feed them and bathe them. I will always miss that...
From my horse corrals, about 4 miles from my back yard, you can see a hill with two giant water tanks. My daughter is buried on the other side of that hill. I am torn apart in my heart, its so hard to go feed the horses. Everytime I do, I see that hill, and I think of her. I break down crying; I'm torn apart. I then go to my front yard to sit on my deck. I look to the right and again I see the hill. I drive to town and I see the hill. It hurts, we loved her so much.
If you, the people working in Perryville prison, have any children then you know the love a parent has for their children, if you truly love them. I know me and my husband do; we loved Susan. And if you, the people working at Perryville prison, would have just listened to the cry of a wonderful woman, she may have touched your heart. And you might have change your ways, and done your job right. My daughter Susan would probably still be alive, that's what she was about. A beautiful woman full of love and kindness.
Again, whoever is responsible for the wrongful death of our daughter: God knows the truth. and may he find it in his heart to forgive you.
sammy & gina flores
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I attended a meeting of the Arizona Mental Health and Criminal Justice Coalition yesterday, where both State Rep. Cecil Ash and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery participated in our expanding community discussion about the criminalization of the seriously mentally ill. Cecil was true to form - and everyone already knows how much I love that man.
I was ready for a fight with Bill Montgomery, if needed, but was pleasantly surprised. The following letter characterizes his role in the conversation well...
PO Box 20494 / Phoenix, AZ 85036
Maricopa County Attorney
301 W. Jefferson St.
Phoenix, AZ 85003
I’ve lapsed into the familiar now, largely because I wanted to leave a hug and my gratitude behind for you at the AZMH & CJ System Coalition meeting yesterday, and it still feels to weird to do that for the man in the Maricopa County Attorney’s office. I’m so glad to see that you’re here to help, not hurt, those among us disabled by serious mental illness who face a greater likelihood of criminalization and incarceration than community treatment or hospitalization in Arizona. The class war will wage on, so to speak, and I still anticipate to lodge plenty of opposition to your policies on other fronts, but consider yourself hugged by a left-wing radical (I could face repercussions for that, you know…).
The discussion you facilitated today about how our community responds to mental health crises among the most vulnerable citizens at potentially volatile moments in their lives was a vital contribution to this dialogue. Your strong stance that many of the SMI in the system should have been diverted before being criminalized - and your willingness to play what role you can in seeing that happens more often - was greatly appreciated. I’ve seen too many county attorneys over the years wipe their hands of the problem, locating not only the solutions but the leadership to find them elsewhere, even though the bodies were piling up at their own doorsteps.
You are a far more thoughtful and open-minded man that I gave you credit for. This is not an easy conversation to have, and the crowd you faced had not only law enforcement in it, but recovering individuals and family members of the criminalized among them as well - ready for a fight, if you came poised for one. You identified and navigated many of the complexities of the matter quite skillfully, though, posing the important questions we need to be asking ourselves and each other without shying away from your own opinion on the matter - which you managed to assert based on sound argument, rather than just the authority of your office. You also cultivated an atmosphere where more critical discussion could occur - encouraging some give and take, rather than dominating the room. You were gracious abut allowing dissent without conceding the positions you maintain, as well. I wasn’t expecting to see that.
But you did more than just manage the room. You accepted the responsibility you have to provide some measure of leadership regarding institutional reforms, while coaxing from the community some thoughts on the direction we want to go in. I especially appreciated that you confronted our institutional and societal failures - both within and beyond the criminal justice system - without generating defensiveness, obscuring the hurdles citizens with psychiatric and cognitive disabilities face, or minimizing the devastating consequences of criminalization. You seem far more concerned with positive outcomes for SMI suspects/ offenders - and victims, I might add - than with protecting your office from expending the effort necessary to wrestle with the nuances presented to you by our community’s failure to assure access to meaningful psychiatric treatment options and basic health care for all.
For all that I am grateful, as a person recovering with mood and addictive disorders myself (I could fairly easily end up in an AZ prison), as the sister of a formerly-homeless, dually-diagnosed Deadhead with a rap sheet, and as a citizen wishing to see less victimization and criminalization of members of my community. I left the meeting today with a sense of cautious optimism about the rest of your term in office - I’m looking forward to continuing this public dialogue, and working with you on reducing the criminalization and traumatization of persons with serious mental illness who would not be in the CJ system but for their psychiatric symptoms.
Finally, I just wanted to say that it was a show of courage to call on an audience member who you knew full well may have an argument in store for you - especially one dressed up like an outlaw. For all you knew I even had theater planned…neither was necessary, though. Thank you again for your time and willingness to engage thoughtfully on these issues of late.
Until next time,
Friday, May 6, 2011
Here's the agenda and the minutes from the last meeting where the ADC made their presentation...if you can't make it, contact the members, listed in the left hand column below.
Hope these are all legible.
(double-click documents to print)
For those of you who only have a cursory awareness of Black Panther Party history and the story of George Jackson (if any at all), Angela Davis is more than a legendary-black-militant-turned-
I'd encourage anyone interested in the issue of criminal justice to read Davis' work and catch a lecture or two on Youtube. Her message this evening was consistent with her written words and strong on principles of abolitionism; Google it if you want more, though. Something more awesome happened in Tempe, AZ tonight than Angela Davis' talk that I need to write about. It's been unfolding all along, really....
I showed up at NEEB Hall early today - somewhere around noon, I think, to scope it out and chalk the walk. There's a great canvas out in front of the place - it was a great spread, though my camcorder photos are all grainy and I didn't pull out my 35mm...in that respect my work was lost. There was hardly any traffic until the event, too, so I didn't have much chance to interact with curious on-lookers, as I usually do. I killed a lot of time in the heat, and started to get bummed.
But as the hour approached and more people began to arrive, I found myself surrounded by friends, old and new. Anarchists, former prisoners, loved ones of those passed, ASU students, members of the immigrant rights' community, and even a few Wobblies (yep - the IWW folks) have all been showing support for prisoner rights' actions of late, organizing and standing in solidarity where our paths overlap - I seem to be in the middle of many of those intersections right now.
Anyway, as a result of all my comrades' assistance, I had a ton of t-shirts with prisoner mug shots floating among the standing-room-only crowd this evening: at least 15 victims of prison suicide, neglect or violence were represented. Again, I was slow on the draw with my camera, but at one point after the lecture everyone was milling around the AZ Prison Watch banner out front: God, I hope someone out there had the presence of mind to take pictures of them. I was just kind of stunned, really - seeing these folks gather from a distance in all those shirts, I realized how much power we actually have among us, within us, and behind us...
So, I have no doubt that what we have together far exceeds the power against which we fight. I'm not just talking about pushing through some feel-good legislation or coercing the ADC to make a few reforms. Prison abolition is not a losing battle, not even in this forsaken place. That's going to help me sleep a little better tonight. Thanks all.
And thanks, Professor Davis, for coming to town today.