Death and Laxness

If the jailers had paid attention, they might have noticed that Jose Rodriquez was dying

Jose Rodriquez died just before noon, curled up on a mattress on a concrete floor, his head resting in his own vomit.

For days before his death on March 26, Rodriquez, 39, could barely stand or sip from a cup of water. He was emaciated, feverish, dehydrated, twitching--classic signs of heroin withdrawal.

Even with proper medical treatment, heroin detoxification is a brutal experience. Although few people die as a result, it's possible--if the patient is alone or ignored.

Rodriquez was not alone; he was surrounded by hundreds of people, including trained medical personnel. But he was ignored and--despite convincing symptoms--accused of faking his ailment.

Jose Rodriquez died at Madison Street Jail, in the custody of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

It's been nine months since New Times first reported that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating conditions at Maricopa County's jails--Durango Jail, Towers Jail, Estrella Jail, Tent City and Madison Street Jail.

In a letter to county officials dated August 8, 1995, Deval Patrick, assistant U.S. attorney for civil rights, announced that the investigation would be conducted under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), a federal civil statute which allows for investigations of patterns of abuse and other inappropriate treatment in jails, prisons, mental health facilities and other government institutions. According to the letter, the investigation would focus on:

* Physical abuse of inmates by staff.
* Inadequate supervision of staff.
* Staff and administrative failure to address allegations of physical abuse.
* Failure to discipline staff found to have abused detainees and inmates.
* False reporting regarding use of force and allegations of abuse.
* Denial of access to counsel.
* Inadequate medical care.

Lee Douglass, a public information officer for the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, says the investigation is continuing. She says, "We are working together with officials from the jails to try to find solutions to the problems there."

Although the Department of Justice could ultimately decide to bring legal action against Maricopa County, Douglass says CRIPA "is not a law that's designed to end in litigation. The spirit of the law is negotiation."

Sources tell New Times that medical and correctional security experts have been hired by the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office to review conditions at the jails as part of the investigation. County and federal officials refuse to confirm this, or to release any reports produced by such experts.

Arpaio welcomed the federal investigation last August, telling New Times, "If I can let all the press from around the world come into the jail and talk to the inmates and everything, I'm sure not one to hide anything."

But now Arpaio won't discuss the investigation at all. And he refuses to comment on Rodriquez's death.

Arpaio did mention the investigation in his book, America's Toughest Sheriff, published earlier this year. Arpaio relates his appearance on Phil Donahue's talk show, during which, he says, Donahue mischaracterized the federal investigation:

"Phil started by mentioning the Department of Justice investigation into the Maricopa County jails, though he didn't mention that Justice routinely investigated scores of jails every year, that some prisoners made jailhouse careers out of accusing their jailers in nuisance cases. . . ."

Actually, out of thousands of institutions nationwide subject to CRIPA, only about 30 are presently under investigation, Douglass says.

Since Arpaio took office in January 1993, 15 county inmates have died in custody, according to Sergeant John Kleinheinz, one of the sheriff's spokesmen. Of those 15, 11 died in Ward 41, the detention ward at Maricopa Medical Center--of "natural causes" ranging from cancer to AIDS to pneumonia. The remaining four died in jail.

Just last Saturday, Scott Norberg, 35, died while in custody at Madison Street Jail after he was restrained by detention officers. The cause of death is under investigation, Kleinheinz says.

Kleinheinz refused New Times' request to see the county's record of calls for medical assistance from sick and/or injured inmates. There have been almost 300 such reports just since January 1, 1996, Kleinheinz says--too many for his department to produce for review. Besides, he adds, some of those requests are bogus.

"There's some [inmates] that really need to be taken care of," Kleinheinz says, "and then there's some that are just trying to get out of their cell, go to the infirmary, you know, do those kinds of things."

The trick, of course, is figuring out which is which. In Jose Rodriquez's case, someone figured wrong.

At the time of his death, Jose Rodriquez had been convicted of nothing. He was still innocent, under the law.

On March 20, Glendale Police Officer Jan Whitson stopped Rodriquez for driving with expired tags. Whitson says he saw Rodriquez hide something under the seat of the vehicle he was driving as the officer approached. When Whitson investigated, he found a syringe. He also discovered that Rodriquez was wanted for sale of stolen property.

Rodriquez was arrested on three counts of stolen property and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. He was accused of selling copper plates stolen from a mine in Yavapai County to a Glendale recycling company. The plates are valued at $3,000. Rodriquez admitted that he sold two sheets of copper at the behest of two acquaintances, who gave him $20 worth of heroin in exchange.

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