Lies and Videotape

In an apparent repeat of its behavior in the Norberg case, the sheriff's office withheld key evidence from litigant

In Post's case, simply strapping him down into the chair put him at risk. Medina and three other officers put Post into the chair without putting his wheelchair's gel pad underneath him. Post says he told the officers that in only 20 minutes, a paraplegic sitting on a hard surface can develop sores that can require surgery. Ignoring his pleas, the officers left Post in the chair for 70 minutes before putting the pad underneath him. Because of his time on the hard surface, Post developed ulcers on his anus. Bedridden for six months afterward, he narrowly avoided surgery.

In 1997, Post told New Times that the guards had terrorized him during his hours in the restraint chair. In his account, Post said that a nurse only spent a few seconds to check that Post could wiggle his fingers. He said that guards came to gawk at him despite his crying and begging that his gel pad be put underneath him. He said that another officer (identified in sheriff's office reports as Damian Leffler) did come to loosen his straps and shove the pad under him, but Leffler first handed his stun gun to another officer and told him: "Stick him in his neck if he fucking moves." The second officer then held the device close to Post and sparked it, terrifying Post. (In the sheriff's office investigation, detention officers did not describe using or seeing the use of a stun gun.) Post also claimed that another officer later put his feet on the chair between Post's legs to get leverage, then pulled down so hard on straps improperly draped over his shoulders, rather than across his biceps, that the force exerted by the officer caused Post's neck damage. (Officers denied that this occurred.)

When Post's mother, Joan, went to the sheriff's office with these complaints the day after Post's incarceration, Lieutenant Scott Frye began an investigation of the incident. In his report, Frye says that he watched surveillance videotapes of the event, but stopped making notes of them after Post was initially put into the chair. And that's all he turned over to Post, a tape that ended at 4:20 a.m., just as detention officers strapped him in. Although Post would be kept in the chair for more than three additional hours, Frye didn't make notes of further tapes. Post says Frye told his mother none of the surveillance videos showed anything relevant to his case.

Nearly three years later, in December, the sheriff's office turned the remaining footage over to Post.

Jail surveillance tapes are inherently poor in quality. A single four-part screen contains images made by four different cameras, meaning that each individual image is small and grainy. But the tape the sheriff's office turned over to Post in December was remarkably bad, even by jail surveillance video standards.

The quadrant that would show the view from a camera looking directly into Post's isolation cell was almost completely black.

Post says his attorney took the tape to a videotape expert who told them that the tape seemed to have been purposely degraded.

Mike Manning says that's not surprising. In the Scott Norberg case, Manning says the sheriff's office turned over several tapes of terrible quality. "It was clear what happened. They copied it several times to degrade the image so a jury couldn't see what was happening.

"Their discovery behavior was I think the most grotesque abuse of the litigation process I've seen since the Keating era. Not even Symington's discovery abuse, which was significant, was as bad as the sheriff's discovery abuse in the Norberg case," Manning says. Eventually, with the help of the courts, Manning got the sheriff's office to produce key evidence, including new videotapes and a toxicologist's report. "It had an impact. They knew they were wrongfully withholding documents," Manning says. "Their gamble was that we wouldn't push the production and never see these documents."

In January, Manning pushed for the court to force Arpaio to turn over thousands of pages of even more evidence. Instead, the county chose to fork over $8.25 million, which will be paid from a county insurance policy.

Manning says that under pressure, the sheriff's office eventually gave them better videotapes. "We pushed and pushed and made them show us the master. It was tenfold easier to watch."

Richard Post's attorney took another approach. He gave the nearly blacked-out tape to an expert who was able to extract images which, by jail surveillance video standards, are remarkably clear. Post says he received the new, clearer video about two weeks ago.

The new tape shows Post's isolation cell for the hours he was strapped to the chair. While grainy and jerky, the tape does suggest that Post's account is accurate. Nurse Beverly Hunter does visit his cell for all of 10 seconds to make sure that Post can wiggle his fingers. Guards can be seen stopping by to watch as Post writhes in the chair and pleads with them, his gel pad sitting just two feet away from him. When Leffler comes to put the pad under Post, he goes through all of the machinations that Post had detailed. And Leffler can be seen handing something from his belt to a second officer, who then appears to hold the device toward Post. Later, the second officer can be seen closer to the camera, handing a rectangular black box--what appears to be a stun gun--back to Leffler. And the tape does show another officer adjusting the straps of the chair while putting his feet up between Post's legs, just as Post had described.

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