Torture Chamber

Did Eric Vogel die because of another beating in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail?

At 2:15 the next afternoon, jail staff decided Eric should be processed and taken up to Madison Street Jail's psych ward.

Officers entered the room and told Eric he needed to strip and put on the jail's standard-issue pink underwear.

"Eric was very modest," his mother says. "He was scared to have anybody see his body."

A private investigator measures the bruises on Eric Vogel.
A private investigator measures the bruises on Eric Vogel.
Batons caused the bruises on Eric Vogel's legs during his arrest.
Batons caused the bruises on Eric Vogel's legs during his arrest.

This is the infamous pink underwear Sheriff Arpaio decreed all inmates would wear. Pink for humiliation. Pink for publicity.

When Eric saw the underwear, he screamed. He believed he was being dressed up as a woman so guards could rape him.

He panicked. "I ran for the corner and balled up like a doughnut," he told his mother. "I yelled: 'I'm Eric Vogel! I'm about to be raped! Someone help me!'"

At this point, guards should have backed out of the room. They should have let him calm down.

They should have called a psychiatrist. They should have found a way to slip him sedatives.

They could have given him white underwear. They could have just given him pants and let him wear his own underwear.

"You absolutely do not need to charge in there like that," says a county forensic psychiatrist who has worked with mentally ill prisoners for 20 years.

"You just walk away, let him calm down," says Chris Gerberry, president of the Maricopa County Deputies Association. "And you absolutely don't aggravate a situation like that by forcing a guy into pink underwear."

But this is Joe Arpaio's jail.

So seven detention officers, one weighing more than 300 pounds, were ordered to strip Eric Vogel and place the pink underwear on him.

As they entered, Eric told his mother he heard one of the guards say: "Okay, we're gonna have a party."

Eric began crying and screaming. As officers grabbed his arms, he fought back, freeing his arms and legs. He was trying to crawl back into the corner.

The officers slammed Eric to the ground and tried to handcuff him, according to detention officer reports.

Eric fought to roll onto his back. He told his mother he believed they wanted him face down to rape him. He flailed and spit at one of the officers. A spit net was strapped on his head.

Guards complained in their reports about Vogel's "incredible strength." But the two police officers who met him on the street complained of no such "incredible strength."

Over the next several minutes, they wrestled and hit him, finally controlling him enough that they could rip his clothing off. As guards held him naked, another guard yanked the pink underwear into place.

Eric continued to struggle and scream that he was being raped.

So detention officers decided to place him in the jail's restraint chair, a chair that, when used properly, is a valuable tool in keeping hysterical detainees from hurting themselves or staff.

When used improperly, it can be deadly. Improper use of the chair was particularly to blame in the deaths of Scott Norberg and Charles Agster.

Like the two men before him, Eric struggled.

It took four minutes for guards to secure Eric in the restraint chair. His wrists and ankles were secured with Velcro straps, his waist and chest were secured with a seatbelt-like strap. Oddly, none of the guards describe these four minutes in their reports about the incident.

Arpaio has refused since November to turn over the videotape of the incident to Ann Vogel's attorney. A public records request by New Times last week was ignored.

Once secured, Eric was rolled to the psych ward. At some point, he fell unconscious and was taken to the county hospital for tests. Doctors determined he had no serious internal injuries and sent him back to the jail.

His mother called an attorney. The attorney hired a private investigator to enter the jail and talk to Eric. Eric didn't talk. He would only write on a piece of paper.

"Asked for other clothes," he wrote.

"So cold. Refrigerator cold. . . . Food all over the floor. Brought slippers and pink underwear. . . . They tried to shove my head in the toilet. . . . Screaming at the other inmates. 'I'm Eric Vogel! I'm Eric Vogel!' . . . So many hands. So many batons."

The private investigator took pictures of Eric's body.

His upper thighs were badly bruised with clear baton marks. The bruises were consistent with the police officers' description of their attempts to control him.

But his upper body also was badly cut and bruised. The bruises on his body are consistent with those on the bodies of Charles Agster and Scott Norberg.

Eric called Ann two days after the beating. "Mom, they beat me up bad," he told her. Ann called the jail demanding to see her son. She was told Eric didn't want to see her.

"They just didn't want me to see how bad he was," she says.

Ann Vogel scraped together the $2,600 for bail. On November 20, Eric was released, seven days after his arrest.

Ann took him home. He talked very little. He was deeply depressed. He said he was in constant pain, so Ann gave him pain pills.

On December 7, Ann took Eric for a ride. While turning into a parking lot, Ann hit another car. It was just a fender bender. Police would come to take a report.

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