Sanitized for Joe's Protection

Sheriff's summary of probe into inmate's death omits alarming details

John Courey, a Phoenix police officer, happened to be at the jail that afternoon. He tells an investigator he could see Norberg being stuffed into the chair. And he heard the detention officer uttering angrily at Norberg: "How [do] you like [it], you think you're a fucking tough guy." Courey says he heard it repeatedly, "Something to that effect, several times."

Detention Officer Walsh, the woman who held the towel around Norberg--to keep him from spitting, she says--also portrays her fellow jailers as angry, uncontrollable, and bent on some sort of revenge.

"I, I told the officers around that he was purple," she tells investigators, adding that she noticed Norberg had gone limp as he was being held in the chair.

"Um, nobody stopped and I told the officers again that I didn't think he was breathing. They continued . . . you know, when I told him that he was purple, he just said, you know, 'Who gives a fuck.'"

She identifies Officer Martin Spidell--who was pushing Norberg's handcuffed arms up over his head and behind the chair while three other officers pushed down on Norberg's head--as the source of the remark.

"I told [Detention Officer David] Gurney to the right, I don't think he was breathing. It was like, they wouldn't stop," she tells her interviewer.

Walsh estimates that Norberg's head had been pushed down into his chest for five to ten minutes. She says she "didn't think it was appropriate" for the officers to push his head down so far. "I couldn't even get my head down that far," she says. "All the way down for that long, that length of time. . . . Down to my chest. It was all the way down. . . . And his arms were back and he was being held down like that."

Walsh admits that she complained to Nurse Campbell about the way Norberg was treated because, "I was angry . . . how things were done."

None of Walsh's assertions about what detention officers had said, nor her comment that "they wouldn't stop," are included in the sanitized summary compiled by the Sheriff's Office.

Neither are Court Clerk Patty Duran's statements that what she saw was an example of excessive force. Duran had accompanied Judge Robert Bushor into the hallway outside Norberg's cell because Norberg had refused to report for an Initial Appearance.

"[Duran] said she felt that what happened should never have happened," investigator T.C. Shorts writes. "She said she thought it was excessive." He adds that Duran was uncomfortable about discussing the incident: "She further stated that she has to work with many of them and didn't want to be involved."

In the 137-page narrative summary of the investigation, however, there's no mention of Duran's characterization of the events as "excessive."

Predictably, inmates are less shy about their assessment of Norberg's treatment: They say they saw excessive, brutal force, and complained loudly about it to investigators.

The inmates condemn detention officers, which is to be expected. But remarkably, their versions of the incident comport well with the hard evidence.

It's only an inmate, for example, who correctly says how many detention officers, nine, entered the holding tank to suppress Norberg. The videotape clearly bears this out; there were not five to eight, as guessed by various detention officers.

And inmate accounts of the number of times Norberg was zapped by stun guns are closer to what an independent autopsy found later. Jail-guard estimates ranged from two stuns to six; inmates put the number at anywhere from eight to 20. An examination of Norberg's corpse commissioned by the Norberg family puts the number at 21.

Inmates also corroborate allegations by Detention Officer Kimberly Walsh and Phoenix police Officer John Courey that detention officers were angry and used obscenities. The prisoners say that besides the viciousness of Norberg's handlers, what appalled them most was the smiling, joking attitude displayed by detention officers standing on the sidelines.

The officers themselves made almost no comments to investigators about their own states of mind, concentrating solely on Norberg's behavior. But again, hard evidence tends to support the inmates.

In the videotape, it's possible, when faces are close to the camera, to see more expressions of mirth than of alarm. And one of the most intriguing, and chilling, episodes in the Norberg drama is the nonchalance of the 911 call for help after jailers realized Norberg wasn't breathing.

Not surprisingly, the inmates' version of events has been dismissed by Sheriff Arpaio. However, recognizing the skepticism the public would hold toward an investigation conducted by his own employees, the sheriff has developed a typically Arpaioesque strategy: He dares other authorities to look into the matter, as if to do so would be political suicide. Meanwhile, he continues to suggest that inmate accounts are tainted by self-interest while those of detention officers facing possible homicide charges are not.

A Mesa Tribune columnist has made the case that Judge Bushor's version of events should be considered the most objective and compelling, since Bushor was neither a jail employee nor an inmate. But the judge acknowledges to investigators that when Norberg was pulled out of the holding tank, he moved to the end of the hall. Of all of the witnesses interviewed by investigators, Bushor is among the least descriptive.

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