Torture Chamber

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

Eric Vogel was terrified to walk from his house. He imagined getting lost and confused. He imagined police arresting him and hauling him off to jail, a place where hulking guards would humiliate him, strip him naked and torture him.

Vogel, 36, was paranoid and delusional. He was mentally ill.

He was also right. Vogel is now dead, another unseen casualty of the law-and-order campaign of America's Toughest Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. On March 27, Arpaio will announce if he plans to run for governor.

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.

Vogel feared Arpaio, according to his mother. He had seen the stories about Scott Norberg and Charles Agster, two mentally ill men who were killed by Arpaio's men.

Norberg, who was beaten, kicked, and repeatedly stun-gunned for more than 10 minutes by a dozen jailers, died in the jail's "restraint chair" after two guards held his head down against his chest.

During that struggle, a guard noticed Norberg could not breathe, according to court papers. Another guard responded, "Who gives a fuck?" Another said, "Who gives a shit?"

That attitude came from their boss, Joe Arpaio, who said he wanted his jails to be "places of punishment."

Nearly 75 percent of those receiving "punishment" in Arpaio's jails have not been convicted of any crime. Many of them, like Eric Vogel, were mentally ill people who got lost in a world they didn't understand.

Arpaio defended his guards in the Norberg case and then began a campaign to spoil the investigation of the killing. He hid and destroyed evidence and used the power of his office to block the guards from prosecution, according to court papers.

Last summer, Agster, a 33-year-old man with the mental development of a 13-year-old, also died in the restraint chair. He didn't understand what was happening to him in jail, so he panicked. The 132-pound man was beaten and then wrestled into the restraint chair, where he died of "positional asphyxia due to restraint," according to his autopsy report.

The county medical examiner absurdly listed the death as an "accident."

Arpaio admitted no wrongdoing. He has also blocked Agster's family from viewing the videotape of his beating.

Now comes the latest casualty, Eric Vogel.

Vogel's family also has been blocked from the videotape of his beating.

From 1985 to November of 2001, Eric Vogel never left his house without his mother, Ann.

Eric had a life before 1985. He was enrolled in Arizona State University, hoping to become a doctor. But in 1985, Eric came down with Valley fever and was laid up for several months. During that time, too, he watched police haul his father from their home after a fight with a neighbor. Something apparently snapped. He no longer could walk from his yard without panic attacks.

In recent months, Eric had been trying to work up the courage to leave the house. On November 12, 2001, Eric told his mother it was time for him to reenter society. "I want to go for a walk," he said. "Just a little walk. I can do it."

She believed it was a bad idea, but relented. Ann drove Eric to a mailbox near 44th Street and Union Hills and drove home. It was only a few blocks away.

Ten minutes later, police arrived at her door. Did she have a son named Eric?

Apparently, Eric had become confused as he walked. He roamed into someone's backyard.

Believing Eric was a burglar, the homeowner called police.

A Phoenix police officer arrived. Eric walked from behind a bush and moved swiftly toward the officer. Eric mumbled something about the FBI, about needing the officer's car to get away. He was clearly panicked and delusional.

Eric jumped into the driver's seat of the cruiser. The officer wrestled him away. Eric grabbed at the officer's waist, probably for keys. The officer believed Eric, who was 6'3" and 190 pounds, was going for his gun.

In the ensuing struggle, a second officer sprayed Mace in Eric's face. The first officer struck him several times on his left thigh with a baton. Vogel repeatedly asked the police to shoot him.

Finally, Eric calmed down and was placed in the back of the cruiser, where Eric asked the voices in his head how he should answer the officer's questions.

Less professional or experienced cops probably would have shot Eric Vogel. He was lucky to be alive.

Eric was charged with assault on a police officer and taken to Madison Street Jail.

Phoenix officers made it clear throughout their police reports that this suspect had signs of mental illness. Eric continued to talk to the voices in his head.

A judge set his bond at $26,000, typical for such a serious charge. He was placed alone in an isolation cell.

This is how Vogel, clearly mentally ill, was treated by Sheriff Arpaio, the man who wants to be our next governor.

Vogel's mother Ann was contacted. She demanded to see him, to help calm him. She says detention officers told her Eric didn't want to see her.

Eric remained in the isolation cell through the night. He was terrified. He told detention officers he believed they were preparing to beat him and rape him. He warned them the FBI was watching.

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."

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.

Aware that police were coming, Eric became panicked and began walking from the accident trying to get home.

The police arrived. While running Ann Vogel's driver's license, the officer saw there was an arrest warrant for Eric.

Arpaio's office had charged him with aggravated assault on a police officer for spitting on the detention officer.

Another felony because he was scared of wearing pink underwear. The bond would be higher. He could go to prison for years.

Eric made it home, but he was terrified again. That night, Ann decided she would take Eric and leave Arizona forever. They would go into hiding. Anything to keep Eric out of Arpaio's jail.

"Eric told me he didn't want to live anymore," Ann says.

"We'll get through this. We'll go away," she told him.

"I don't want to live anymore," he replied.

The next morning, before they could leave, Eric began complaining of headaches and dizziness. "Mom, I don't feel good," he said. He told his mother he was going into his room to take a nap.

Two hours later, Ann walked into his room to check on him.

He was lying unconscious on the floor by his bed. She called 911. Paramedics came and tried to revive him.

He was pronounced dead at the emergency room.

The county medical examiner determined he died of a heart attack. There were no illegal drugs in his system. The examiner found no severe damage to any internal organs, only mild congestion in parts of Eric's brain and mild damage to his spleen.

The county medical examiner, the same examiner who performed the Agster autopsy, did not link the death to earlier trauma.

For Ann Vogel, that's as absurd as calling the strangulation of Agster in the restraint chair an "accident."

"They killed him," she says.

Ann Vogel couldn't afford an independent examination.

Ann Vogel says she has nothing left to live for. Hers is another life ruined.

All she wants now is a copy of the videotape showing what happened to her son in Joe Arpaio's jail.

It is a public record. History says she won't get it.

Other parents have asked to see the beatings their children suffered in the jail. They weren't given the tapes, either.

That's because the tapes show the brutality Joe Arpaio promotes in his jail.

A mentally ill man was tortured for Joe Arpaio's pink underwear. He was beaten for no reason and charged with a felony for resisting what he clearly believed was a raping.

"It's sickening," says Vogel's attorney, Carmen Fischer. "They feed on the most vulnerable segments of society."

This is what happens when a leader promotes a culture of violence.

Turn over the Vogel tape, Joe. Turn over the Agster tape. Show us how you make an ill man's worst nightmares become reality. Show us why you should be governor. Show us how tough you are on the weakest among us.

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