Turning Up the Heat

There's a difference between justice and vengefulness -- something that's lost on Sheriff Joke.

Deputies returned fire, according to a police report, but they missed Purpura.

Instead of dying, he was arrested and booked into the Madison Street Jail. Purpura was still intent on suicide, and a couple of days later, on November 19, 2000, he was found by detention officers with a plastic bag wrapped around his head. Once again, he survived.

At this point, sheriff's office records indicate, Purpura was finally placed on suicide watch, which consisted of having his arms and legs tied down to posts on each corner of a bed.

Leslie Christiansen in a holiday photo with her brother.
Leslie Christiansen in a holiday photo with her brother.

So much for effective medical treatment.

It was Purpura's third suicide attempt in less than a month. He obviously needed intense psychiatric care and constant supervision. Instead, he was subjected to barbaric conditions fueled by Outlaw Joe's philosophy that prisoners have no rights. Despite Purpura's clear depression and overt acts, he was removed from suicide watch after only three days.

That decision was made by a doctor employed with Maricopa County Correctional Health Services, which falls outside Arpaio's direct control. The doctor ordered Purpura moved from suicide watch and moved back into the general population on November 22, 2000.

Dr. Joseph Scalzo, director of correctional health, did not respond to my written questions about his department's decision regarding Purpura.

While Scalzo's doctors removed Purpura from the suicide watch, the location where Purpura was then sent and the amount of monitoring by guards that he would receive was under Outlaw Joe's control.

So where did Joe's jailers place the severely depressed and suicidal man?

In a cell with a double-bunk and plenty of sheets to use as a noose. Not only did the sheriff put Purpura in a cell where the tools of death were easily accessible, he was also placed in a pod where detention officers checked on cells only every half-hour.

On the evening of November 24, Purpura played cards for a while with his cellmate, Anthony Sealy. According to a sheriff's office report, Purpura told Sealy that the next time he attempted suicide he would succeed because he had a plan.

He certainly did.

Shortly after 1 a.m. on November 25, 2000, detention officers discovered him dead in his cell. He had wrapped a sheet over the top rail of the upper bunk and hanged himself.

Obviously, a person determined to kill himself will often succeed. But when a person -- particularly someone who is mentally ill -- is arrested and placed into custody, the public must demand that jailers treat these people humanely.

Outlaw Joe might as well have given Purpura a loaded gun.

After all, inmates like Purpura are more difficult and expensive to handle. And in Joe's sick world, anybody who is arrested deserves to be severely punished, and if that means they die, so what.

Leslie Christiansen, 39, is in jail on a probation violation.

In late June, Christiansen says she noticed a cut on her leg had become infected. Christiansen says she was not surprised because of the horrid conditions in her dormitory at the Estrella jail.

"People are sleeping on the floor and mice run over top of you," she tells me. "There are brown recluse spiders everywhere."

The infection got steadily worse, and despite her complaints to detention officers and nurses, nothing was done, Christiansen says. Luckily, she had a court appearance on June 30, and she and her attorney managed to get nurses at the Estrella jail to examine the wound on her leg.

The infection was so extensive that Christiansen was immediately transferred to Maricopa County Medical Center where she had emergency surgery to treat a form of flesh-eating bacteria, her attorney, Kirsten Curry, tells me.

Christiansen had to have a second surgery a few days later. "I would have definitely lost my leg unless somebody had done something," she says.

Christiansen has called me twice, collect, from the county hospital's jail ward. She says the conditions there are only slightly better than the jail itself. Her bathroom sink didn't work for a week, so she couldn't wash her hands. The toilets weren't cleaned. The windows were covered up, and there were no clocks. She says she didn't know what time of day it was, whether the sun was up or down.

Soon after her calls to me, which are taped by the sheriff's office, Christiansen was removed from the hospital ward and sent back to the Estrella jail -- despite the open wound on her leg.

Her distraught mother, Dee, sends me daily e-mails with updates on her daughter's horrific struggle inside Arpaio's gulag.

"They moved her back to Estrella yesterday [July 20]. Gaping wound, and all. Visited her today. She is very depressed and angry. . . . She is on crutches, can hardly walk."

Dee is worried that her daughter may become suicidal or otherwise become another victim of Outlaw Joe's brutal regime.

Hey, Joe, listen up: If Leslie Christiansen loses her leg, or worse, you will be held accountable. Not that a sociopath like you really cares. But -- combined with the multitude of other problems you face this election year -- the voters sure will.

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