The disputed records include video footage of the final minutes of prisoner Juan Mendoza Farias' life. Farais died on December 5, 2007, after an altercation with 11 guards in the Lower Buckeye Jail that left him with bruises and welts covering much of his body.

An independent medical examiner reviewed Farias' autopsy and told New Times that he was beaten and suffocated before he died ("Dead Again," September 11).

Last July, New Times asked the sheriff for video footage and other public records about Farias' death. In August, Lieutenant Dot Culhane, a legal liaison for the sheriff, said the footage and records would not be released because they are part of an ongoing investigation.

Dennis Wilenchik
courtesy of The Arizona Republic
Dennis Wilenchik
A morgue photo of Juan Mendoza Farias, who died under suspicious circumstances in Arpaio's jail.
A morgue photo of Juan Mendoza Farias, who died under suspicious circumstances in Arpaio's jail.

Case law in Arizona, however, dictates that merely claiming an investigation is ongoing — without showing specific, serious harm that releasing the records would cause — is not a valid reason for law enforcement to deny a public-records request.

On September 11, New Times published a story about Farias' death, in which it was mentioned that Arpaio's staff would not deliver records that Arizona law deems public.

The next week, New Times received a letter that included Farias' booking photograph. In it, Pam Woody, another legal liaison, wrote that if the video of Farias' death were released, guards might see it, which could compromise the sheriff's investigation into the death.

"For example," Woody wrote, "if a witness were to view a videotape of the incident or have information relayed . . . by someone who viewed the videotape, it is possible that the witness' memory of what occurred will be altered to conform to what they believe they are seeing or what they have been told."

In the October 6 complaint, New Times attorney Suskin writes that "Arpaio's refusal to allow examination of the original videotape or other digital display of the death of Mr. Farias or to provide copies of other documents, as requested, constitutes a violation of [state law]."

The complaint adds that withholding the video "is without merit, speculative, made in bad faith, and insufficient as a matter of law to avoid compliance with the Arizona Public Records Law. Arpaio presented nothing more than global generalities of the possible harm that might result from release of the requested public records."

The sheriff has 20 days from the time he was served with the complaint to file a legal explanation for withholding the records. The complaint for special action is not a civil lawsuit seeking monetary reward. Special action is a legal device that requires government agencies to abide by the law.

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6 comments
nbalike
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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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