New Times’ Lawsuit Continues, Stern’s “Disorderly Conduct” Charge Dropped, and We Ask a Judge to Force Joe to Release Video of a Suffocated Inmate's Last Minutes

Almost a year after New Times' two top executives were arrested and jailed, a federal judge dismissed parts of the newspaper's lawsuit against the Maricopa County officials involved and left other parts in play.

In her October 7 ruling, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton dismissed County Attorney Andrew Thomas from the action entirely, saying he has special immunity as a prosecutor. But she did not release Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former county Special Prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik from all alleged blame in the incident.

A week before Bolton's action, prosecutors dropped a misdemeanor "disorderly conduct" charge against New Times writer Ray Stern, who was cited on the same night (October 18, 2007) that the paper's executive editor, Michael Lacey, and its chief executive officer, Jim Larkin, were hauled out of their homes by the sheriff's Selective Enforcement Unit and incarcerated for hours.

Lacey and Larkin's alleged crime was writing a story about abusive grand jury subpoenas — from a grand jury that turned out not to exist — seeking a wide array of privileged information about New Times journalists and the paper's online readers ("Breathtaking Abuse of the Constitution").

In Stern's case, he was accused of raising his voice in the office of one of the sheriff's taxpayer-funded private attorneys, Michele Iafrate, after he was ordered not to photograph public records reluctantly put on display for his review after a formal request under the Arizona Public Records Law ("David & Goliath," August 28).

The Selective Enforcement Unit also appeared at Stern's home, and his charge was turned over to Thomas' office for prosecution. Thomas cited a conflict of interest and asked City of Phoenix prosecutors to step in. Citing their own conflict, they eventually turned the case over to the City of Mesa. It was finally dropped after Mesa prosecutor John Pombier said, "There is no reasonable likelihood of conviction."

One reason had to be that former Iafrate employee Beverly Goodman — who was at the lawyer's office and heard the confrontation — testified in a deposition that Stern did not raise his voice.

Another reason: A jury might have agreed with Stern and New Times lawyer Steve Suskin that "the citation written by the MCSO was a sham likely motivated by vindictiveness and a desire by the sheriff to retaliate for facts and opinions previously published in New Times."

The newspaper's false-arrest lawsuit alleges that Thomas, Arpaio, and Wilenchik broke the law and violated the First Amendment rights of Lacey and Larkin by jailing them on the very day that they published their article on the subpoenas.

While Judge Bolton dismissed Thomas as a defendant in the suit, she did not entirely release Arpaio and Wilenchik. It was under the bombastic Wilenchik's hand that the subpoenas against New Times and its readers were issued. And he was the one appointed by Thomas to prosecute the paper and, by extension, Lacey and Larkin.

After a national outcry over the arrests of the pair, Thomas was forced to fire Wilenchik as special prosecutor (although he remains in Thomas' employ on civil matters involving Arpaio), drop the investigation of New Times, and dismiss felony charges of revealing grand jury secrets against the paper's executives.

In her ruling, Bolton did not disagree with allegations that Thomas' grand jury subpoenas were overreaching and possibly malicious, but she said that overreaching subpoenas and Lacey and Larkin's night in jail do not constitute racketeering and other federal allegations alleged in the New Times complaint.

A press release issued by the County Attorney's Office after her ruling gave some media outlets the impression that the entire lawsuit was dismissed, but New Times attorney Michael Manning says, "The heart of the case remains intact. We're moving forward with the action. This is part of the litigation process that we're disappointed with."

Manning says an appeal is under consideration, as is submitting a revised complaint in federal court by an October 31 deadline set by Bolton.

The judge wrote in her summation, "Plaintiffs allege that Wilenchik issued subpoenas that were overbroad and improper, and sought arrest warrants and fines; even if these actions were done maliciously or for an improper purpose, Plaintiffs have not alleged that they are indictable under federal or state law."

Bolton did not rule out that Arpaio was motivated by malice.

"The fact that Arpaio sought to have plaintiffs criminally prosecuted does not constitute abuse of process," she wrote, "merely because Arpaio disliked plaintiffs and enjoyed doing them harm."

The judge dismissed the federal allegations of racketeering and negligence against Wilenchik and Arpaio. She did not dismiss claims of gross negligence, malicious prosecution, and false arrest and imprisonment. These, she concluded, can be handled in Superior Court — unless facts presented in an amended complaint convince her otherwise.

Michael Lacey's response to Bolton's ruling and information about how Thomas and Wilenchik's prosecution came about are contained in the accompanying sidebar.


In a separate action against Arpaio, New Times has filed a complaint for special action, asking that a Superior Court judge force the sheriff to hand over public records that his office has refused to produce in the suspicious death of an inmate.

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6 comments
nbalike
nbalike

OmegaBreitlingTag Heuer

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Jail had time to prevent fatal inmate beating Oct. 19, 2008 12:00 AM Arizona Republic

http://www.azcentral.com/arizo...

If you were to read this column from end to end, then read it again, and continue rereading it until you have read it five times, you would understand how long it took to beat Robert Cotton to death.

Cotton was an inmate at Maricopa County's state-of-the-art maximum-security jail when he was murdered May 1. Much of the assault was caught on a surveillance tape. The beating goes on for 15 minutes.

Last week, officials in charge of the jail said that they found "no reason for a change" in jail policies based on the incident.

The county's chief of detention told The Republic, "After reviewing this incident, we are confident this homicide could not have been prevented. It was never in full view of the officer."

It's easy for us to understand the impossibility of trying to stop a violent inmate who makes a quick move to strike another.

But this was not that kind of attack. You could drive from downtown Phoenix to Metro Center in the time it is suspected to have taken Pete Van Winkle to kill fellow inmate Robert Cotton.

How could procedures that allow such a thing to happen be acceptable?

In the video, Van Winkle drags a bleeding, unconscious Cotton from his cell on to the upper-level concourse of the cell block, kicks at the body and half-heartedly tries to hoist it over a railing before surrendering to officers.

The sheriff's department produced a 500-page incident report on the case. In it, the guard posted near the video monitors at the time of the murder is said to have placed a phone call about training, in addition to other duties. All of which, supposedly, is according to procedure.

In the meantime, an inmate strangled and mauled another inmate for as long as it takes to play a quarter in a professional football game.

The family of Cotton, who was in jail on auto-theft charges, has filed a $2 million claim against the sheriff's office. That lawsuit will be sorted out in civil court.

In a much less civil court - the one involving public opinion - the verdict on what happened in the jail has been mixed.

News reports on the video of the murder first appeared on KPHO (Channel 5) news. When The Republic didn't have an article about it the next day a reader called and asked me, "Are you afraid that (printing an article about the murder) would hurt (Sheriff Joe Arpaio's) chances of re-election? Or would it help them?"

I raised the question in an Internet blog on azcentral.com.

"Sheriff Joe could stand on the corner of Central and Camelback and beat baby seals and puppies to death . . . and it wouldn't matter to his loyal followers," one reader responded. "Busting an illegal busboy with a cracked taillight makes anything else irrelevant."

We're a tough crowd in Arizona. I've learned over the years that a death in jail elicits many, many responses like this: "Who cares, trash killing trash is something most people could give 2 (expletive) about."

To which another reader said, "Sorry, but Cotton wasn't sentenced to death."

While another added, "Murder, no matter where it happens, is unacceptable. However, it's more tolerated in a prison environment because prisoners-killing-prisoners is preferable to ex-cons-killing-civilians, so to speak."

In the end, the way we feel about all this could be summed up by quotations that were forwarded to me by two separate readers:

1. "Violence is justified in the service of mankind." - Attila the Hun.

2. "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." - Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Throw Arpaio, Hendershott and the rest of the Monkey's in jail and then Taser the shit out of them.Let's see how they like it.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Many of those in Arpaio's jails are Detainees, not yet convicted and awaiting trial. Think Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Those who built Abu Ghraib prison came from Arizona.

It's time to clean house in Maricopa County and Arizona. The election is our chance.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

#1 Comment says it all -- but I will add to it.

After watching the video of the murder of inmate Cotton at Arpaio's jail, now it's easy to understand why they do not want the public to see murder of this inmate. New Times, and reporters keep the pressure on to inform the public of their "tough on crime" policies. Unfortunately the public does not think they could be next thrown into Arpaio's jail where the violent and nonviolent are mixed together -- that applies to the women also. If they think it can't happen to them, they need to think again.

Cruelty and inhumanity should not be tolerated in America and Arizona represents the worst with it's harsh mandatory minimum sentencing and their mindset that takes us back to the McCarthy era policies. The Legislators need to update laws and get the Sheriff and County Attorney to be hired as educated and experienced professionals rather than to be elected. They are more concerned about their personal agendas than doing their jobs. They are unaccountable to the taxpayers. It's time to throw Arpaio and Thomas out of office. Enough is enough!

We will vote for Dan Saban for Sheriff and Tim Nelson for County Attorney. We need professionals who understand the seriousness and obligations of their jobs.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Well, well, well, Joe does it again. How do you like that taxpayers?? Another lawsuit approaches us as a result of the recent murder in the 4th Ave jail. When are people, constituents of this clown going to relaize how much of a burden he is to the county budget????? Don't get me wrong, I like his stance on a lot of issues, but at what cost do we continue to allow the misuse of public funds as he continues on his public display of anti-social behavior?? He's not worth our tax dollars & definitely not worth another term in office. When and at what cost will these "mature Arizonas" figure out that County can not continue to fund his personal venues?? WAKE UP PEOPLE!

 
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