By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
For more than two years, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office withheld a videotape that contains key evidence in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought by a paraplegic, Richard Post, whose single night strapped to a restraint chair in Madison Street Jail in 1996 caused him permanent neck damage.
When the sheriff's office finally turned over the tape in December, the video seemed to have been altered in a way to prevent it from being useful. But a videotape expert has extracted the original images from the tape, images that may prove costly to a county still smarting from the $8.25 million settlement in the restraint-chair death of jail inmate Scott Norberg.
In the Norberg case, the sheriff's office also withheld important, and damaging, evidence: surveillance videotapes and a toxicologist's report that cast doubt on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's version of events. Norberg family attorney Mike Manning accused the sheriff's office of obstructing justice and covering up its role in Norberg's death. He says that when the county could no longer hold back the damaging evidence in the case, it sought the settlement, the largest of its kind in state history.
Now, in a lawsuit that could cost the county nearly as much--Post says he won't settle for less than $6.5 million--it appears that the sheriff's office has once again suppressed evidence that may hurt its position.
Post gave a copy of the videotape to New Times last week.
More than two years ago, Post was given a jail surveillance video that documented events up to the time when he was placed in a restraint chair by guards. The sheriff's office told Post there were no other tapes relevant to his case. But in December, the sheriff's office turned over the new tape, which includes clear views of what happened during the three-plus hours Post was actually in the chair.
The tape appears to corroborate much of Post's story, that he was placed in the restraint chair by vengeful guards who sought to punish him for flooding his cell, that the guards held a stun gun to his neck, and that a guard cinched the chair's straps down so tightly that Post suffered permanent neck damage. Being so securely strapped to the hard chair also caused Post, who is paralyzed from the waist down, to suffer deep tissue sores that left him bedridden for several months after the 1996 incident. As a result of his neck damage (a doctor told Post that essentially, his neck is permanently broken), Post has lost most of the use of his right arm, and can no longer propel himself in a wheelchair.
Arpaio didn't return calls to his home, but his attorney in the case, Georgia Staton, tells New Times that several tapes have been given to Post, and that she didn't want to comment about their contents with the case in litigation. As for why it took the sheriff's office two years to turn over tapes clearly relevant to the case, she says: "You can conclude whatever you want. All I can say is the plaintiffs have had tapes. And I'm really not going to talk about it."
Post's attorney, Joel Robbins, also declined to discuss the case. Told of Staton's comments, he said: "Yes, you can conclude what you want. But I think it's odd it would take this long for them to turn it over."
Arpaio's spokeswoman Lisa Allen said she was unaware of new evidence in the case. "We didn't withhold any tape," she says. If New Times has such a tape, she added, she couldn't comment on it until the newspaper could provide her with a copy--even though the tape came from her own office. Asked if she or Arpaio had viewed the videos in the multimillion-dollar case, she said that the sheriff was too busy to pay attention "to every little lawsuit against the office."
Richard Post's incarceration is one of the most bizarre in the six-year history of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's campaign to make Maricopa County's jails such tough places of punishment that inmates--most of whom simply await trial--will not want to come back.
Before he spent one night in Madison Street Jail, Post had no criminal record. A paraplegic and wheelchair athlete with a strong upper body, he owned a home, was raising a daughter on his own, held a part-time job and was attending classes at Glendale Community College. He was 35 years old and had been in a wheelchair for 10 years after being paralyzed in an automobile accident.
Post was arrested on St. Patrick's Day 1996 after James O'Connor, the owner of O'Connor's Pub, called Phoenix police and asked them to remove Post from his bar. When officers Jeffrey Howell and James Ray arrived, according to their arrest report, O'Connor complained to them that Post had harassed him by calling him a "Protestant and an Englishman."
O'Connor later admitted in Post's criminal trial that he had been drinking that night. Post says the "Englishman" comment apparently originated when Post asked the bar's singer to announce to the crowd that boxer Mike Tyson had defeated English champion Frank Bruno earlier that evening. After the announcement, O'Connor told Post he wanted the paraplegic to leave. Confused, Post asked him, "Why? Did you bet on the Englishman?"