Stir Crazy

State helps prison parolees fall through the crack

The people who try to clean up the mess created by the state are eager to see Anderson's bill become law.

Margie Frost, director of the East Valley Transitional Training and Living Center, has more than 200 letters from soon-to-be-freed inmates who are desperately seeking a place to live -- and start over.

"It's not pretty," Frost says.

She calls Anderson's bill "long overdue."

"You should see some of the letters that we get from guys who say they have no place to go," she says. "A number of them are saying they're not getting any kind of information on what to do or where to go before they're released."

She takes these men in, provided she has the space. Frost's 84-bed center has been full, with a long waiting list, since January. Residents can stay up to two years, but they must work, and save 85 percent of their income to reestablish themselves once they leave.

She says many of those she can't take in will wind up back behind bars, being fed by the taxpayers, contributing nothing to society, consuming taxes rather than paying any.

"In prison, he knows he's going to get three squares a day, and he knows he'll have a place to lay down," Frost says.


My job frequently makes me the bearer of disconcerting news. So it was exhilarating to inform Evelyn Patterson that the State of Arizona no longer considers her to be a criminal.

"I'm just so grateful," she says in a breathless tone.

Unfortunately, what is good news for Patterson will undoubtedly mean bad news for Maricopa County taxpayers. Once again, our collective wallets will be lightened because of the behavior of one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's finest.

Patterson, 65, and her aunt, Ann Priestly, 72, were convicted of disorderly conduct last year in a case that stemmed from their November 1999 detention by a security guard outside a Dillard's department store at Arrowhead Towne Center ("Eyes on the Reprisal," February 22). The guard was sheriff's detective Jeff Manka, who was working off-duty for Dillard's.

Manka accused the women, who are African American, of shoplifting. He was dressed in a tee shirt, sneakers and cut-off trousers. Uncertain of whom exactly was confronting them, the women resisted Manka's aggression. He responded by dragging them through the store. They grasped onto clothing displays in an attempt to halt his progress. He had the women searched. When he discovered a receipt for the items in the Dillard's shopping bag they carried, he called another department store to see whether they had stolen anything there.

The women were clean, but Manka had manhandled them in a most public and humiliating fashion. So he compounded his flagrancy by citing them for disorderly conduct and telling them they would be charged with trespassing if they ever set foot in another Dillard's store. The suspects demanded a trial.

A year ago, Peoria Justice of the Peace Lex Anderson listened to the evidence and perfunctorily convicted both Priestly and Patterson of disorderly conduct. He fined each $305.

The women -- both had spotless, even exemplary, records -- would have none of that. They appealed their convictions to Maricopa County Superior Court.

Last week, Judge Michael Wilkinson vindicated the two. In his terse order dismissing the charges, Wilkinson wrote that "the information that Deputy Manka possessed was woefully deficient to confront and detain the Appellants . . ."

"Therefore, because the detention lacked even 'reasonable suspicion,' the detention was illegal and the disorderly conduct that flowed from it must be dismissed."

Patterson, reached by phone at her Milwaukee home, was ecstatic.

"Here you are walking around innocently and somebody comes up and starts treating you like that -- like dirt -- it's just unbelievable," she says. "Although we ran up against the first judge, someone higher than him saw that this was unjust."

Wilkinson's ruling adds gravity to the civil complaint Patterson and Priestly have filed against the county, the Sheriff's Office and Dillard's. The taxpayer tab for the brutal and illegal actions of Arpaio's troops continues to soar. The sheriff is a walking, talking liability claim.

And the retailer's sordid history of harassment of people of color continues to make headlines -- and hefty civil settlements for the aggrieved -- across the nation.

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