Detention Mounts

County jails are understaffed, but there seems to be plenty of money for the sheriff's pet projects

While he spends lavishly on new offices, a bulletproof car and new employees to fight cat mutilations, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has so understaffed the county's jails that inmates are threatened by disease outbreaks, and taxpayers could face new lawsuits.

Documents, including duty rosters, sick-call rosters and jail-shift records, show that the county's jails are so severely shorthanded that some inmates have been housed for up to six months without an initial medical screening. That increases the possibility that tuberculosis, hepatitis and other diseases will spread in the jails among both inmates and employees.

Moreover, Arpaio is violating a court order requiring that inmates be medically screened within 14 days of being housed at the jail.

Inmates have also been denied recreation because of understaffing, the records show. "No recreation due to staff shortage," says a notation on jail records which show that for dozens of days in January and February, inmates were not let out of their cells.

Other records show that day after day, a dozen or more posts in the Madison Street Jail simply went unstaffed, including medical posts.

Lack of staff has been an ongoing problem at the county jails. More than a year ago, consultants hired to study the need for new jails in Maricopa County concluded that before the county spent a dime on new buildings, it should dramatically raise staffing levels in existing jails.

The consultants criticized Arpaio for making poor use of the staff he did have, and singled out the chain gangs as particularly wasteful programs: "One must question the rationale for utilizing two detention officers to supervise 15 inmates in a chain gang when two officers are used to supervise 200 inmates in dormitories at the Durango Jail. . . . This consultant would recommend suspending this program and re-assigning the detention officers back into the jails until such time as there is adequate staff to safely supervise the inmates housed inside of the jails."

Arpaio ignored the suggestion and kept his chain gangs. He's also ignored the need for more jail staffing while continuing to spend resources on new offices and a bulletproof car. The car alone cost $70,000, according to sheriff's records. Arpaio has repeatedly refused to provide records of expenditures for the lavish new offices on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo building. A visit to the offices by New Timesreporters was also refused, but deputies say the sheriff has furnished his new digs with expensive appointments.

"It's plush. Leather couches, all new office furniture. Plush carpeting. Big television, conference tables, a private bathroom," says Ken Gerberry, secretary-treasurer of the Maricopa County Deputies Association, which represents 350 deputies and detention officers.

"It's a lot more lavish than his last office. They didn't bring over the furniture they already had, they bought all new things. I didn't see a single old desk up there."

Gerberry says the employees he represents are frustrated that their boss has devoted so much of the office's resources to his personal comfort and constant publicity-seeking than to fighting crime and running the jails.

Besides a critical lack of detention officers, Gerberry says there are other ways Arpaio's management of resources is threatening the public. "We're short cars on the west side. We need more officers out there as well. You see the violence in Phoenix. It was 23 minutes the other day for a deputy to get back-up. When I was a deputy, we got response time down to 10 minutes. It's gone back up."

Although the sheriff's office continually advertises for new detention officers, Gerberry says retention of officers has been difficult because of the conditions in understaffed jails.

Arpaio's spokeswoman Lisa Allen refused to comment either on the records or the comments of detention officers. "We're not dealing with you anymore," she says, saying that the sheriff's office won't answer New Timesquestions.

Sick-call rosters for Madison Street Jail in February and March were obtained by New Times. The rosters detail when inmates are taken to the infirmary for medical treatment, both for specific ailments as well as initial medical screenings. The records show that most inmates had already been locked up for two or three months before they were screened. And a few had even spent six months incarcerated with no medical assessment.

Gerberry contends that his detention officers are at risk of catching disease when inmates wait so long to be screened, and he argues that taxpayers face more lawsuits from inmates over poor medical care. A list prepared by the sheriff's office shows that 21 current lawsuits face the county over medical treatment of inmates.

"It's more than just liability. It's public health. The liability pales in comparison to the potential public health hazard," says Ted Jarvi, an attorney who has represented inmates in a successful class-action suit, Hart v. Hill, which set minimum standards of inmate care in the jails. "The whole idea of the jail being a cesspool of disease has always been a major concern. . . . It's a public health hazard, not just a jail health hazard."

The county has asked an appellate court to end the Hart v. Hill order. Jarvi, who is fighting that effort, says that the 1983 order instructed the sheriff to give inmates medical examinations in their first 14 days of incarceration.

"The best they ever got it to was a month," Jarvi says. He was surprised that current records show that inmates are now waiting up to six months to be seen. "That's really serious," he says.

Health care in the jails is administered by Correctional Health Services, a county department headed by Dr. Gale Steinhauser. When New Timesattempted to show Steinhauser the records, she refused to look at them, saying only "No comment."

The sick-call documents suggest that Arpaio and CHS have ignored a liability problem in the jails. More than 800 lawsuits have been filed by inmates during Arpaio's tenure. According to a list prepared by the sheriff's office and included in court records, more than 170 of those lawsuits persist. Already, the county is shelling out large sums of money to defend the cases. Thirty-one of them are being handled by private law firms; the Scott Norberg case cost taxpayers $1 million just in attorney fees plus $8.25 million in settlement costs.

Despite the backlog of inmate suits, none had come to trial until last week. On Thursday, a jury awarded former inmate Timothy Griffin $1.5 million after it found that the county had negligently handled Griffin's medical needs.

Griffin had been jailed on October 5, 1994, for driving with a suspended license (one of the the most common reasons citizens are taken to the county's jail). Griffin's license had been suspended because he had failed to pay for license tags.

On October 7, Griffin complained of severe pain and told physician's assistant Rita Bearface that he had a history of ulcers and that the pain was so intense he thought he might have a perforated ulcer, a potentially life-threatening condition. Bearface prescribed him Maalox and Zantac without referring Griffin to a physician. She also didn't take Griffin's temperature or pulse or order any blood tests. After Bearface's exam, a nurse told Griffin to "quit acting so dramatic."

Fifteen hours later, on the morning of October 8, another physician's assistant realized that Griffin needed surgery and ordered that he be taken to the Maricopa Medical Center. It was another two hours before Griffin was taken to the hospital, where he underwent surgery for a perforated ulcer and peritonitis.

Griffin's attorneys called expert witnesses who testified that Griffin went on to endure four additional surgeries--and lived several months with an open wound in his abdomen--because of the delays in jail.

A 1996 Department of Justice investigation found that inmates were subject to an unconstitutional mix of excessive force and negligent medical care in Maricopa County. Since that time, the Department of Justice and the county have tried to hammer out a settlement to improve the medical care in the jails. Sources tell New Timesthat the settlement is finished but is being held up by procedural delays.

Meanwhile, Arpaio finds plenty of taxpayer cash to spend on other things, some aimed at furthering his political position. Other expenditures are more bizarre. For example, Shannon Koppinger, estranged wife of deputy Mark Koppinger, told New Timesrecently about a five-man team of deputies in Arpaio's notorious enforcement support division that is engaged in tracking down cat killers and political enemies of the sheriff.

Gerberry says that he and the employees he represents are particularly angered by a recent hire made by Arpaio. Last fall, Gerberry complained to Arpaio and the Board of Supervisors that 64 detention officers--who make between $23,000 and $37,000 a year--did not receive the modest raise given to other sheriff's employees. The officers sought only a small raise, just $1,000 each, which would have cost the sheriff's office $64,000.

An October 16 sheriff's office memo gave the detention officers the bad news: "The sheriff's office does not have the funding" for the raise.

But a month later, Arpaio hired Carol Munroe, formerly of the county's animal control department, to direct his own "animal welfare" programs and oversee attempts to catch cat killers, dog abusers and cockfighters. Her pay: $61,000.

Gerberry says employees are incensed that Arpaio hired "his chicken lady" for about the same money detention officers were told the sheriff's office didn't have.

Gerberry says Arpaio hasn't done enough to improve the jails. "They have hired more people, but they've put them into food service and other nontraditional roles. They're not using staff properly. And it's at the risk of the health of the inmates and the officers."

Gerberry's willingness to publicly criticize the sheriff is an indication of the extent that Arpaio's relationship with his deputies has deteriorated. From the beginning of Arpaio's tenure, employees have complained, usually anonymously, that the media-hungry lawman was carefully hiding problems at the sheriff's office from the public. But now, deputies have become bolder as revelations about Arpaio and his chief aide David Hendershott have sparked numerous federal investigations into the sheriff's office.

At one time, Gerberry was included in high-level weekly staff meetings with the sheriff and his chief deputies. Gerberry is now excluded from those meetings, and he says Arpaio never consults with the Deputies Association. Arpaio has said publicly that he does not recognize either the Deputies Association or another organization that represents deputies, the Deputies Law Enforcement Association.

"He said, 'Fuck you,'" Gerberry says of Arpaio's statement that he doesn't recognize the associations.

Now, Gerberry and his deputies are investigating their own sheriff. Gerberry and his attorney have sent letters to Arpaio, requesting sheriff's office financial records. Arpaio has not responded, Gerberry says.

"He won't tell the public how he's spending the public's money. He's being real secretive. And that's going to give him problems."

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