Controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio faces a lawsuit over the suspicious death of a mentally ill veteran in a Phoenix jail. Terry Greene Sterling reports.
On a quiet day in early January, the family of Marty Atencio, a mentally ill Gulf War veteran who had died under suspicious circumstances at one of Sheriff Joseph Arpaio’s jails in Arizona, gathered to pay their respects at a funeral home in Phoenix. In their tributes to Atencio, who was 44, the grieving family recalled his recoveries, his relapses, his homelessness—and their struggle to help him.
Last Friday, six months after Atencio was buried with full military honors, the Maricopa County medical examiner released an unusual autopsy report that paints a horrifying picture of his last hours.
Atencio’s cause of death was tied to “complications of cardiac arrest” due to “acute psychosis, law enforcement subdual and multiple medical problems,” wrote the medical examiner, Mark Fischione. The medical examiner didn’t specify whether Atencio died of natural causes or was killed by the officers.
Atencio is at least the 12th inmate to die under strange circumstances in the Maricopa County jail system. (The Phoenix New Times lists 11 other such cases here.) And listing “law enforcement subdual” as one cause of death, according to former Maricopa County chief prosecutor Rick Romley, is particularly unusual because it could implicate law enforcement in Atencio’s death.
The former soldier’s allegedly rough treatment by officers at Arpaio’s infamous Fourth Avenue jail in Phoenix was caught on routine jail video tape. By then, Atencio had been in police custody for over four hours and had been showing signs of “acute psychosis,” the medical examiner reports. The video appears to show burly officers from Phoenix and Maricopa County piling on Atencio, apparently after he said something, though exactly what remains unclear because jail cameras don’t record audio. Atencio was subdued for seven minutes, according to the medical examiner’s report, which found evidence of “apparent carotid chokehold, prone placement and restraint, use of conducted electrical device and use of handcuffs” on Atencio’s corpse. He was eventually checked by a jail medical employee before being carried to a cell, where he was stripped naked and lay completely motionless except for an “unspecified movement in his abdominal region,” the report continues.
Minutes later, when guards went to check on him, Atencio was in full cardiac arrest. He had no pulse and did not respond to frantic first aid measures, the medical examiner wrote. After at least 35 minutes without a heartbeat, doctors managed to recover his pulse in the emergency room. A few days later, he died, after his family removed him from life support because he was brain dead.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment