Jail Suits Could Cost County Taxpayers Tens of Millions

A financial time bomb sits ticking in a Maricopa County file drawer. Among thousands of mundane tax cases and routine lawsuits by county vendors, dozens of claims made by present and former inmates of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails threaten to explode.

New Times repeatedly has asked the county to provide a total of the claims and lawsuits pending against Arpaio, only to be told that county officials are "working on it." In the meantime, New Times' examination of all claims filed against the county reveals that claims by former inmates and their survivors and others who had the misfortune of coming into contact with Arpaio's minions total in the tens of millions of dollars. They include:

* Scott Norberg, asphyxiated in Madison Street Jail June 1, 1996: $4.5 million.

* Jane Olson, allegedly strapped into a restraint chair at Madison Street Jail and beaten June 1, 1996: $5 million.

* Michael Sanderson, who hanged himself at Durango Jail after guards, who knew that he was suicidal, allegedly put him in a cell alone and unwatched June 3, 1996: $750,000.

* Jeremy Flanders, beaten into a coma by fellow inmates at Tent City. At the time of the beating, three guards were assigned to watch over 600 inmates: $500,000.

* Damon Scoggin, 14, allegedly beaten by a deputy for throwing rocks at a house on March 14, 1995: $200,000.

* James Johnson, allegedly shot and killed by a deputy on May 4, 1996: $1 million.

* Leon Nahat, allegedly attacked by a fellow inmate early in 1996 and denied proper medical care, resulting in permanent damage to his jaw: $260,000.

The law firm of Robbins & Shumway has filed several other claims for a total of $4.72 million, including cases brought by former employees of the jail as well as inmates. Patti Shelton, one of the firm's attorneys, says its clients include the two women who accuse "David Pecard," the Arpaio aide who turned out to be an impostor, of sexual assault. They, too, will be filing expensive claims against the county.

Then there's the case of Karen McCuin, which has had no dollar figure attached to it yet. She died in December after detention officers at Estrella Jail ignored for several days her complaints of intense pain. The woman, three months pregnant, fell into a coma and was rushed to Phoenix Memorial Hospital, where she died.

Her husband, Charles, tells New Times that he is still waiting for reports from the Sheriff's Office as well as the hospital to explain what caused his wife's death.

There's also the case of Bart Davis, an inmate presently serving a sentence for drug possession at Perryville state prison, who claims that on May 12, 1995, detention officers attacked him, strapped him into a restraint chair and then stunned him several times, once in the face, and five or six times in the testicles.

The event took place in Madison Street Jail, where Davis awaited trial. Davis claims that a detention officer saw him passing a lit cigarette to another inmate and commanded Davis to come over to him. Instead, Davis flipped the cigarette behind him. That's when the officer attacked him.

Davis' attorney, Patti Shelton, estimates the claim she intends to file in the case will be for $250,000. She says Davis may have suffered permanent eye damage.

 
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