109 Degrees of Incarceration

County inmate Lance Hawthorne died in a cell whose vent had been closed as a form of punishment

Lance Paul Hawthorne was not a model citizen.
When a landlord attempted in 1989 to evict Hawthorne for not paying rent, the overweight, sparsely employed photographer opened fire with a .22 revolver, shooting through his door and walls. After Hawthorne, then 44, was arrested, the converted garage he lived in was searched, and amid some photos of nude women was found a canister of photographic negatives of young, undressed boys.

Hawthorne claimed to have received them from another photographer in the early 1970s, when such photos were not illegal, and he denied that he had produced the shots himself. Two detectives recommended that Hawthorne be monitored by the court, but one judged that Hawthorne was "not a severe threat . . . he just liked to look at pictures, but was probably not a predator." His defense attorney argued, meanwhile, that photos of nude children--not engaged in sexual activity--did not meet the legal definition of "lewd" material.

The court disagreed. In 1991, Hawthorne was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor and received five years probation for possessing the negatives. Months later, during a subsequent search of his apartment, Hawthorne was found to be in possession of pornographic material of adults as well as letters from children. After the search, Hawthorne stopped communicating with his probation officer. Five months later, he was arrested and sentenced to a more intensive form of probation and ordered to spend 12 months in a jail work furlough program.

In jail, Hawthorne wrote in a court document, he was beaten by inmates who learned that he was a sex offender. A week into his incarceration, claiming that he feared for his safety, Hawthorne walked away during his workday and absconded to California, where he lived for several years. After Hawthorne's escape, a former associate remembers seeing his mug shot televised on an Arizona's Most Wanted television program.

Two years ago, Hawthorne returned to Arizona and was arrested to face charges for again violating his probation conditions. (The jail escape charge was not brought against him.) Sitting in jail in the summer of 1997, Hawthorne awaited his fate. A presentencing report recommended that Hawthorne receive prison time. He certainly deserved to pay a price for not abiding by the punishments he'd been given earlier.

But none of Hawthorne's transgressions called for the death penalty he received in Madison Street Jail.

On the night of August 21, 1997, Lance Hawthorne baked in a cell so hot, his freshly expired corpse was measured at 109 degrees. An investigator wrote that the cramped cell received virtually no air circulation.

Days before Hawthorne's death, what little circulation the cell did get had been cut off by a detention officer because Hawthorne's cellmate had said something the officer didn't like, according to the sheriff's investigation.

Now, Lance Hawthorne's mother, Helen, wants to know why a 314-pound man with a known heart condition was put into a sweatbox of a cell in a jail with antiquated, unreliable swamp coolers. And she's taking Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the taxpayers of Maricopa County to court to get her answers. She's asking $1 million in damages.

"I'd like to know why my son died over there," she tells New Times. "Maybe he [Arpaio] could have prevented it if they'd had better facilities."

Perhaps he could have. But after years of warnings from outside agencies and lawsuits over maimed and dead inmates, Arpaio still seems to show no interest in taking such warnings seriously.

Arpaio has toned down the rhetoric that marked the first three years of his tenure, when he bragged that he had created a jail where inmates--even those awaiting trial under a presumption of innocence--were punished so severely that they'd never want to come back.

A study has shown that his plan hasn't worked; inmates' rate of return to jail has not declined.

And in 1996, inmate Scott Norberg died while being stuffed into a restraint chair by more than a dozen jail guards, paraplegic Richard Post received permanent neck damage when he was clamped down into a restraint chair, and inmate Robert Butler was found dead in his cell having suffered, in part, from a beating. The Department of Justice is investigating the deaths of both Norberg and Butler. The Norberg family won an $8.25 million settlement against the county, and Post is seeking $6.5 million for his injuries.

Arpaio reacted by dropping his claims about "punishing" inmates and instead became careful to say that he ran a "humane" but tough jail. For the past two years, he's promoted the idea that conditions in his jails have improved, even if he hasn't knuckled under to U.S. Justice Department and Amnesty International calls for major changes.

Court records suggest that Arpaio's rhetoric may have changed, but conditions in his jail have not. A document prepared by the sheriff's office shows that of 174 lawsuits currently facing the agency, 82 were filed in 1997 and 1998.

One of those is Hawthorne v. Arpaio, et al.
Seventy-nine-year-old Helen Hawthorne talks about missing her son Lance as if he were still a small boy. When she tries to tell his life story, she gets whole decades mixed up. But eventually, Lance's tale emerges, a tale about a peripatetic loner who formed closer relationships with gadgets than he did with people.

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