Inmate on life support wouldn’t be the first to die on Arpaio’s watch

*Trigger warning for descriptions and images related to extreme prisoner abuse*

It’s still not clear what exactly happened to Ernest Atencio, but we do know that just days after the Department of Justice accused of Sheriff Joe Arpaio “unconstitutional policing” and creating a “pervasive culture of bias” against Latinos,  a 44-year-old Latino man, Ernest “Marty” Atencio, became unconscious while in one of Arpaio’s prisons, and is now brain dead and on life support.  We know that Atencio got into a fight with the officers in jail and that he was put into a “safe cell.” He was found unconscious and taken to the hospital where he was declared brain dead.  The family claims Atencio, who is mentally ill and a veteran of the first Gulf War, was tasered. Atencio’s brother Mike, acting as the family spokesman, said “The sheriff’s office murdered my brother….That’s what I want to get out to the public right now: Sheriff Joe is murdering inmates.”

Sadly, Mike is not hyperbolizing. And if Atencio does indeed die, he won’t be the first to do so while in Arpaio’s jails. Nor would he be the first mentally person to die at the hands of Arpaio’s officers. Here are some other cases, which makes the fact that Arpaio is still in office especially outrageous and enraging. As you’ll see, this is not an isolated incident, but a pattern of abuse, torture and killing.
Prisoners die in these chairs often enough that Amnesty International has called to abolish their use.
1. Juan Mendoza Farias
. Like Atencio, Mendoza Farias got into a fight with the officers, so they moved him to a “safe cell,” just as they did to Atencio. They tasered him, as Atencio’s family claims they did to to Ernest, and fired six rounds of pepper balls. Then they put him in a wheelchair and pushed his head between his legs for long enough– more than 10 minutes– and hard enough to cause his neck muscles to hemorrhage internally from the strain. He stopped breathing, was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.

2. Scott Norberg. According to the Phoenix New Times, Norberg was

in Arpaio’s jail just 15 hours before he was handcuffed by guards, kicked, stomped on, and then strapped into a restraint chair. There, guards held a towel over his head, literally suffocating him. Medical records later revealed that he had been shot with a stun gun at least 14 times and beaten so badly that his larynx cracked.

Victim Charles Agster didn't get CPR for more than four and a half minutes.3. Charles Agster was 33 but had the mental capacity of a 12-year old. The police officers in a Maricstrapped into a type restraining chair that is so dangerous that Amnesty International wants it abolished; then they  pushed his hooded face between his legs, with his arms cuffed behind him; he stopped breathing and the officers waited for over 4 and a half minutes before performing CPR.

4. Eric Vogel was mentally ill. He was beaten with batons and forced into the terrible restraining chair that had already claimed at least two lives.

A private investigator measures the bruises on Eric Vogel.

Batons caused the bruises on Eric Vogel's legs during his arrest.Shortly after leaving jail, Vogel, who had been healthy, died of a heart attack.  Arpaio refuses to hand over the video tape that shows what happened to Vogel.

The scary thing is that these are only a few of the cases! Join the campaign to bring Joe Arpaio to justice.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

Read more about Katie

Join the Conversation