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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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Marty Atencio's family fights back and files suit.

Thanks JJ and the AZ Republic for keeping up with this tragic case...and to Marty's family for holding the real bad guys accountable...

Marty Atencio

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

$20M claim alleges excessive force in AZ inmate's death

by JJ Hensley
Arizona Republic
June 8, 2012

The family of a man who died in December following an altercation with police and detention officers in a Maricopa County jail has filed a $20 million notice of claim against the city of Phoenix, the Sheriff's Office and the county agency responsible for health care in the jails.

The claim, filed Friday, alleges that excessive force, coupled with a series of failures by medical professionals to tend to Ernest "Marty" Atencio, contributed to the 44-year-old's death in December.

Atencio died four days after he was removed from a "safe cell" in the Fourth Avenue Jail.

document The notice of claim (WARNING: Contains graphic images)

The Maricopa County medical examiner last week issued a report that concluded that Atencio died of cardiac arrest, acute psychosis, medical problems and "law-enforcement subdual," but the report did not list a manner of death.

Atencio's family believes that the manner of death was homicide, committed at the hands of sheriff's detention officers in an altercation that began when two Phoenix police officers began to struggle with Atencio after he refused to remove his left shoe. They wanted the shoe removed to be scanned as he prepared to enter the jail.

The Phoenix officers took Atencio to the ground, and surveillance footage shows the detention officers dragging Atencio into a safe cell, where the number of officers in the small cell obscured their actions from the camera.
A safe cell is a room designed to reduce inmates' ability to injure themselves or others.

The claim contends that at least one officer punched Atencio and that another officer shocked Atencio with a stun gun six times, with several of those strikes coming within inches of his heart.

The notice of claim is a necessary precursor to a lawsuit against a public entity. State law requires a claim to list a dollar amount for which it can be settled. Atencio's family set that amount at $5 million for Phoenix police and $15 million for the county agencies.

The Sheriff's Office is continuing to investigate the incident and declined comment.

A pair of Phoenix police officers contacted Atencio twice on the night he was detained.

During the first contact, outside a convenience store, officers noticed that Atencio was acting erratically and told him to go home. Moments later, the officers received a call about a man kicking at a woman's apartment door in the 2800 block of West Laurel Lane. The officers recognized Atencio as the man they had encountered outside the convenience store, and they arrested him after the woman requested prosecution.

When Atencio arrived at the Fourth Avenue Jail's intake area -- where inmates are screened for medical and mental-health concerns and the most serious are supposed to receive immediate attention -- officers recognized his signs of mental illness but failed to respond, according to the claim.

"She (mental-health professional Monica Scarpati) admitted that she did not complete a full assessment of Marty and sent him to an isolation cell," the claim states. "Ms. Scarpati and (Correctional Health Services nurse Bill McClean) fell below the applicable standard of care by, in RN McClean's words, 'accepting' Marty into the jail and not doing anything to make sure that Marty got the immediate medical attention that he so obviously needed and deserved."

According to the claim, as Atencio waited for further processing, other officers noticed his mental state and began mocking him. According to an interview with an inmate who was nearby at the time, one officer thought Atencio's mug shot could be featured on the Sheriff's Office website that posts booking photos.

"An MCSO lieutenant stated in an interview that the process of taking Marty's photo was, 'Ah, you know, it's kinda comical,'" according to the claim.

As Atencio prepared to leave the booking area, he became uncooperative with Phoenix officers but was not violent or combative, according to interviews with officers contained in the claim.

Surveillance video shows that when a Phoenix officer placed his arm around Atencio's neck and took him to the ground, nearby officers joined in the effort to subdue Atencio. His family called the events that followed a "jailers' riot."

The claim does not request any damages from the Medical Examiner's Office, but it does allege that the office attempted to shield the county from liability by failing to name a manner of death from one of the four descriptions: suicide, homicide, natural causes or accidental.

"The medical examiner's report is part science and part defensive doublespeak designed to deflect and limit the county's liability," the claim states. "The notion that Marty's manner of death is 'undetermined' is a farcical sleight of hand by the county. The cardiac arrest was induced by the 'law-enforcement subdual,' so it was obviously a 'homicide,' i.e., caused at the hands of other human beings."

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