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Vazquez asked the employee why some of the better food wasn't given out to inmates who weren't fortunate enough to work in the kitchen. Vazquez says Arpaio's employee replied: "What, do you have a boyfriend out there? Fuck them. They don't get shit."
Sheriff's Office spokesman Detective Sorci acknowledges that county health inspections have turned up violations in the jail kitchens, but he points out that "the best restaurants have incidents." He says the jails consistently rank in the top 20 percent of health-department rankings.
Other critics say that the inmates' daily bread isn't the only thing wrong with the jail system.
A clergyman who runs a volunteer jail ministry tells New Timesthat a fellow pastor was suspended by Arpaio's jailers for a year recently because he dared to complain.
The clergyman, who asked not to be identified because it would mean being thrown out of the jails, says the pastor had noticed that nurses refused to give prescribed medicines to inmates who attended church services.
When the pastor confronted a nurse about it, he was told that since medicines were delivered at the same time the church services were scheduled, inmates had to choose between the two.
The pastor objected to that policy, but was told by the nurse, "I'm the one who decides who gets their medicine, not you."
The pastor complained to jail officials, but he was subsequently told he couldn't perform services for the next year.
"Things are getting weirder out there," says Mike Scanlon, a criminal defense attorney who often works with clients assigned to Arpaio's jail system.
As an example, Scanlon points out that recently a client of his, a musician, had to spend 24 hours in jail on a drunken-driving charge. Yet despite his brief "sentence," the musician was told he had to cut his long hair.
"It was a haircut or lockdown. It's stupid," Scanlon says.
The attorney says jailers seem to have taken Arpaio's notion of jail as punishment too literally, to the point of ignoring judges' orders for lighter treatment.
Scanlon mentions the case of Grady Smith as an example. A World War II veteran, Smith retired from the Navy with the rank of lieutenant commander and then flew for commercial airlines. Now 74, he was recently convicted for his second drunken-driving offense in five years.
The Sheriff's Office confirms that Smith was ordered to serve a 30-day sentence on a two-for-one basis (each day would count as two, which would reduce his sentence to 15 days).
Smith's wife, Mary, says that the judge's order also made reference to Smith's infirm condition and recommended that Smith serve his 15 days in a medical ward. Smith suffers from water on the brain, which produces disorientation; Smith cannot perform most basic tasks and needs assistance just going to the bathroom.
Jailers ignored the judge's recommendations. Rather than an infirmary, Detective Sorci says Smith was assigned to Tent City. And Mary Smith says when her husband refused to work, his two-for-one order was ignored. Smith served 29 days in three different jails.
"He's a sick man! He can't work if he's sick," she says. "They didn't do anything that that paper told them to do. They put him in with eight people. He didn't get the medication he was supposed to get. The second time I saw him in Durango, he looked so bad, I couldn't believe it. He looked so horrible. He looked like a bum on the streets. I called the Sheriff's Office and told him he's in horrible shape."
Mary says her husband finally received medical care in the final few days of his incarceration, but only after she had complained repeatedly. When she told a jail employee that Grady required care, she was told, "'Well, I wish we would have known that.'
"And I asked [the jail employee], 'Why wouldn't you know it when he had a paper in his hand when he walked in there signed by a judge that he's supposed to be in the medical ward?'
"It's just a mess," Mary Smith says, and since her husband was released last week, he's done little more than sleep. "He said it was horrible. He told me a little bit about it. He said it was the worst place you could ever be in your life. I know one thing--when I saw him, he was not himself."
In the wake of the riot, Arpaio and his detention officers have complained about a lack of funding--which neatly pushes blame for the disturbance onto the county Board of Supervisors.
But one of Arpaio's former deputy chiefs says that blame belongs squarely on the sheriff's four-star shoulders.
"Arpaio doesn't want to put more money in the jails, because he knows that's what gets him national press," says Bill Miller, who retired from the Sheriff's Office in 1994. "The sheriff almost lost some officers the other night, but he hasn't learned anything.
"The detention officers have nothing they can use to discipline these people. They take the heat while Arpaio gets the national exposure. Is that taking care of your people?
"This will happen again."