Murder on Madison: The Norberg Remix

Tweaker inmate who died at the hands of jailers was also a loving son

I'm watching a snuff film, and it's hard-core. The snuffers--there's a pack of them, male and female--are in uniforms. Scott Norberg, the man who will be killed on film, has blond hair, jeans, no shirt. He is slumped down, back against a wall. He looks confused.

It begins.
A fat guard with stupid eyes grabs Norberg's foot, then drags him down a hall and into a cell, beyond the camera's view. A bullish female guard follows. When she comes out of the cell a few seconds later, she is holstering a stun gun. I have the impression she just fed Norberg a taste of the whip.

This proves to be only the wicked foreplay.
The fat snuffer rushes back into the cell, and from the way he moves, I can tell Norberg is on the floor, and the fat snuffer is going to grab him. Other guards race down the hall and frantically huddle around the cell's door. The film is grainy monochrome. I cannot see exactly what is happening to Norberg, but I know it's not good.

Two male guards haul Norberg, who is now handcuffed, out of the cell and heave him onto his feet. A female guard approaches, pushing a black steel chair with straps like tentacles. I think of the torture museum in Amsterdam.

Norberg sees the chair and struggles. The guards swarm and force him into the device, lashing his arms behind him. They surround him, jostling like jackals on a carcass. I see flashes from stun guns. One guard wraps a white towel around the man's face. I watch in horror as he slowly suffocates.

Once Norberg is dead, some of the guards continue to circle him, excited. Others walk away, wiping blood and sweat from their faces. One goes to a sink and cleans her hands.

The last scene is of an inmate with a mop, swabbing the blood off the floor.

The snuff film's title is a real grabber: Plaintiff's Video. It's security-camera footage from inside the Madison Street Jail's intake area, a.k.a. the Horseshoe. It was recorded June 1, 1996.

Scott Norberg's death--murder, the way I see it--became The Norberg Case, settled out of court in January for $8.25 million. Maricopa County's insurance carrier laid that number on the table after receiving a package from the Norberg family's attorney, Mike Manning.

The package contained several items. One was a video that contained taped depositions of witnesses and participants in Norberg's killing, and a news clip of Sheriff Joe Arpaio being interviewed on the Today show. Arpaio says "isolated incidents" a lot.

Also in the package were autopsy photos of Norberg's battered corpse (he had multiple bruises and contusions; he had been burned with a stun gun at least 14 times; his larynx had been cracked), a birthday letter Norberg had written to his father in July 1994, and a remarkable legal brief authored by Manning, which includes a literal, blow-by-blow account of Norberg's death at the hands--and feet and stun guns--of 14 jailers.

I have this same package, including the "Plaintiff's Confidential Settlement Memo," and I have read and viewed the tapes and letters and photos and the brief many times.

I am convinced it was Scott Norberg's letter to his father--or rather that letter juxtaposed against the damning snuff film and Manning's devastating narrative--that induced the insurance lawyers to cut a check and run. The insurers didn't want this package in a jury's hands. They knew the jury, like me, would not identify with the killers in the snuff film, but with the blond-haired man with no shirt, trapped and terrified, about to die. The blond-haired man who wrote eloquent, reminiscent birthday letters to his beloved father, Jaron. I understand this most clearly when I read the two, the birthday letter and the jail chronology, as one. Like this:

Dad: The main reason for this letter is to wish you a very happy 57th birthday. I remember when I was a kid how ancient 57 would have sounded to me. Then again, 31 or 32 didn't sound much better and that's where I find myself now.

At least 25 witnesses saw [jailer] Gurney initiate what was to be a brutal, completely unprovoked and lethal attack upon Scott. . . . Within 58 seconds of its beginning, 11 jailers were in or waiting outside of Tank 6. Scott was immediately stunned multiple times with stun guns.

I wrote Mike a couple of weeks ago and reminisced about his birthday on the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon, recalling how he and I had gone outside on our carport to see if we could see the guys on the moon.

Within 30 seconds Scott was on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back. Scott was repeatedly punched and kicked inside Tank 6. At least one jailer stood in the middle of his back. They "jacked-up" Scott's handcuffed hands up into the air behind him, until he yelled out in pain.

In wishing you a happy birthday, I want to say I just hope I can hang in there through these next 25 years as well as you have. In 25 years I'll be facing the 57 number myself.

As Scott was being beaten, he yelled such things as "What did I do?" "I didn't do anything wrong," and "Please have patience."

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