Inmates' Rights Lawsuit Languishes

The unresolved Hart vs. Hill suit was filed 30 years ago in federal court. It brings up the same jailhouse abuses that occur today

The lawyer behind the arrests of New Times executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin is central in a seminal lawsuit alleging that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office violates the constitutional rights of inmates in its charge.

Hundreds of inmates involved in a class-action suit against the Sheriff's Office have waited 30 years for their day in court. Their jail-conditions suit, called Hart vs. Hill (Damian Hart was an inmate and Jerry Hill was sheriff), was filed in federal court long before Arpaio's tenure. But after 14 years of Arpaio's infamous jails, the complaints leveled in the matter are more relevant than ever.

Long before Dennis Wilenchick ordered the arrests in the New Times case, he was hired to bury Hart vs. Hill. Wilenchik — who came into the case in 2005 when he was hired to represent the Sheriff in an array of matters by County Attorney Andrew Thomas — set out to do that by filing an avalanche of paperwork that an 82-year-old federal judge must plow through.

At issue in the case are the rights of pretrial detainees — prisoners awaiting trial for crimes they may or may not have committed. Such detainees now make up about 70 percent of the population of Joe Arpaio's lockups, according to the 2007 Performance Report for the county jails.

Pretrial detainees were subjected to harsh conditions in Maricopa County jails before Arpaio. But during his tenure, evidence of inhumane treatment has mounted. Four inmates who died in county jails in the Arpaio era were detainees (out of 11 preventable deaths documented in various lawsuits).

In 1995, Arpaio agreed to a consent decree in Hart vs. Hill. He promised to remedy a long list of concerns mentioned in the lawsuit. In what has become a refrain about county jails here, inmates complained in 1977 of poor health care, inhumane living conditions and physical abuse by detention officers, among other cruelties.

In 2001 — without implementing many, if any, of the changes — Arpaio's office filed a motion to terminate the consent decree.

By 2004, the sheriff still hadn't complied with the consent agreement when his office got its day in court. In January of that year, the county argued before U.S. District Judge Earl Carroll for dismissal of the decree.

After that, motions were filed on behalf of the inmates against dismissing the agreement, saying Arpaio's jails continue to violate the civil rights of inmates. In 2004 alone, more than 200 inmates declared that their civil rights were violated, according to court documents.

In January, it will be four years since the county argued in court to dismiss the consent decree, and no end is in sight for Hart vs. Hill. Judge Carroll hasn't even called attorney Debra Hill, who started representing the inmates in 2006, to present arguments. Hill, of the law firm Osborn Maledon, speculates that the main reason is the mounds of paperwork that Wilenchik has filed in the case.

But whatever is holding things up, the delay is working to Arpaio's advantage. After the county argued for the dismissal, the consent agreement was frozen — which means that the sheriff doesn't have to do what he promised to do pending outcome of the matter.

 
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4 comments
Annette
Annette

I am not very computer literate and I just wrote about what happened to my son at shireff Arpios jail. I need help Please if anyone could help with the lack of medical attention that is happening at the jail please e-mail me. Thank You and God Bless.

Annette
Annette

My son was incarcerated at sheriff Arpios jail. My son is a paraplegic and has medical needs. My son selfcaths himself and on the first day my son was taken to the cell he was given one catheter and medical wanted him to wash the catheter in the filthy staff infected sink for three days so that he could reuse it so they would not have to supply him with a new one. Well quess what that is against the law. The day he had to go to court they transported him to the downtown holding tank, he and two other disabled inmates. They literally locked him up and threw away the key. The humilation and degrading moment my son had in that holding tank was uncall for. Several times he had called out to the guards trying to get their attention because he needed to use the restroom. My son has to selfcath himself. Without a catheter and having no control over his body functions he released himself all over himself and his wheelchair. He was soaked in his own urine, all because the guards egnored him, and even when they would express any sign of acknowlegment of what had happened to my son they would just laugh at him. My son and the rest of the inmates in the holding tank were deprived of water and food all day. Not one drop of water was ever given to them within the time my son was transported which was 3:30 AM to 8:00 PM. There is no excuse why my son was treated in that horrible manner. How can one man be given so much power I dont understand that, he has violated the health code over and over again. Those people in high position are very well aware of what sheriff Arpio has done many years ago and is still doing and all the people in position are not doing anything to change the way that inmates are being treated. My son has medical needs and at this moment he has developed a Decubites Ulscer which is a open bleeding wound which can very easily become infected. Because of their lack of medical attention he has started two new ones around the bigger one. I am a mother just like many mothers, sisters and wifes who are out there praying on which way to go with this, something needs to be done. Please if anyone can help we are asking for you to help us. We all are wanting the samething. Medical care, God Bless.

Terri Weathers
Terri Weathers

I would just like to add my opinion. My husband has been in the Maricopa County Towers jail since July 11, 2008. Sure he committed a crime which due process will have to run its course. But he has never been in jail before he nis 40 years old and has Rheumatoid Arthritis. When taken to one of his court appearances (7/30/08) they put chains on his ankles, he was not able to step in and out of the transport van by himself, therefore falling. His foot and leg were injured and began to swell. He put in a request for medical but still has not been seen. (8/17/2008) His foot continues to swell and his pain increased daily. In his condition bones are easily broken and infection could be emanate, therefore left untreated he could contract gangrene and die. I a tax payer and a citizen of the United States I am appalled at the treatment of inmates in joe�s jail. Heck, he has post cards out that actually proclaim that the dogs are treated better than the people. Kind of funny coming from a man who also has a animal kill site in the same location as the county jail.

minnie
minnie

Arapio continues to do injustice to the inmates as i observed first hand when i visit my son at the durnago jail. Their rights continue to be violated, food is not eatable, they do not go out for fresh air on a daily basis, cold showers (of course right now its not to bad) bad water. As Arapio mentioned on National TV that he treated his animals better then the inmates" its so true. He degrades them and provokes the inmates to keep them longer so they can get their money spoken by many of the guards. Help what can i do aside and wait to have my son get out and pray that his health will not be jeopardize by this monster.

 
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