Two days ago in this space I wrote about the latest victim of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department. Forty-four-year-old Marty Atencio of Peoria, Arizona, was arrested by officers of the Phoenix Police Department on assault charges and for exhibiting bizarre behavior. Phoenix PD turned him over to the sheriff's office for processing and detention, and then things got truly bizarre.
The sheriff's people say that Atencio was unruly and had to be tazed. Family members say that he had a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder - going back to his days in the military - and was probably off of his meds. They also said that the sheriff's office was (or should have been) aware of his mental issues. Some are saying that Atencio may have been tazed up to six times. Whatever the number, after being shocked he was placed in a solitary cell, called a "safe" cell, and left alone for fifteen minutes. When someone finally came to check on him, he was not breathing and had no pulse.
Sheriff's Joe's people got Mr. Atencio quickly resuscitated and shuffled off to St. Joseph's Hospital where he lingered in a vegetative state on life support until family members made the sad decision yesterday to remove the machines that were keeping their loved one alive.
Marty's brother, Mike Atencio, called his brother "the most patriotic guy on the planet," and he speaks openly and angrily about Marty being "murdered" by the sheriff's office. He said that the resuscitation and removal of his brother to the hospital was just a political ploy by the sheriff's department so that they would not have to count him as a jailhouse death.
As predicted here, the family is suing Maricopa County over the actions of Sheriff Arpaio and his department in what they regard as the wrongful death of Marty Atencio. They have hired attorney Mike Manning who has brought five other successful lawsuits against the county over wrongful deaths in Arpaio's jail facilities.
Attorney Manning is already hard at work trying to put rumors about Marty to rest. Some have claimed that he may have been high on drugs or drunk when the incident occurred. The lawyer said that the hospital took two separate blood tests on Atencio which prove that he was not using illicit drugs or alcohol at the time of his death. Autopsies are also planned by the County Medical Examiner as well as by a coroner hired by the family. Manning is asking for the jail videos of Marty Atencio being tazed - but he said that Arpaio's people are stalling.
The Phoenix Police Department is also conducting its own investigation of the incident, and they too have requested to see the video tapes.
Attorney Manning said that of the five death cases that he has handled, no detention officer has ever been disciplined as a result of their actions, and indeed all of them received promotions after the deaths!
The US Department of Justice said last week that the administration of Sheriff Joe Arpaio has shown a systematic, discriminatory treatment of Latinos. The death of Marty Atencio is yet one more example of the culture of cruelty, especially against Latinos, that appears to be so pervasive in the sheriff's office.
That cruelty has to stop. Sheriff Joe's reign of terror has to come to an end. Russian novelists Fyodor Dostoyevsky famously remarked, "The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons." Civilization in Maricopa County, Arizona, is by that definition, at rock bottom.