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Maricopa County Pays $7 Million for Marty Atencio’s Death in Arpaio’s Prison

Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

Joe Arpaio’s culture of cruelty manifested itself in so many ways, and many times it led to death.

Prisoners under Arpaio’s watch died due to injuries inflicted by prison guards or through neglect of their acute medical problems.

Yesterday, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors approved a $7 million settlement for the death of Ernest “Marty” Atencio, who died in December 2011 in the Fourth Avenue Jail, operated by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).

Atencio’s family filed a lawsuit claiming that MCSO agents used excessive force against Atencio while he was incarcerated, punching and shooting him with a stun gun close to his heart. It was also reported by Phoenix New Times that agents piled up on Atencio, mortally injuring him.

A federal court trial is scheduled for May 15.

There is plenty of material against the former sheriff’s jail that will be used in the trial. Horrific pictures published by Phoenix New Times show the MCSO agents’ disregard for Atencio’s life. Marty Atencio, who was a U.S. veteran, was left on the jail floor while agents made fun of him after he was abused and mortally injured.

Marty Atencio, in a photo released by his parents

Marty Atencio, in a photo released by his parents

Atencio was arrested by Phoenix police on suspicion of misdemeanor assault. He kicked the apartment door of a woman, frightening her. Earlier, agents found Atencio acting erratically at a Seven-Eleven store. The Phoenix police agents took him to the Fourth Ave Jail, which was then administered by Arpaio and is now run by Sheriff Paul Penzone.

Atencio’s calvary started when he refused to take off his shoes for a scanner check. After refusing the agents’ orders, several of them started to use excessive force that resulted in his mortal injuries. Later, they refused to provide help and medical treatment and left him in agony.

The Maricopa Board of Supervisors – which historically has not reined in the MCSO, its jails or Arpaio, even though that was part of its responsibilities, and instead cowardly chose to pay court settlements in every instance – commented though its spokesman:

“The Board of Supervisors hopes this settlement allows the Atencio family to move forward and the county to continue focusing on improving its complex jail system that sees approximately 100,000 people every year.”

We hope this would be true. But it is not.

Atencio’s death underscores the environment of complete disregard for human lives that was fostered by Arpaio, as well as the leadership failure within the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, which is predominantly composed of Republicans.

Prisoner abuse is not an issue of the past. Advocates are raising concerns that many actors in Arpaio’s culture of cruelty are still at their posts inside the jails. We posted a blog denouncing the inhumane conditions for mentally ill inmates that are continuing under Paul Penzone’s tenure.

Additionally, Atencio’s horrific death and the settlement by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors reveal that Arpaio’s misdeeds are still costing county residents millions of dollars. And it is not over yet.