By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The Lumley Vampire, the underground newsletter purportedly run by current and former Arizona Department of Corrections employees, knows who killed 48-year-old Marcia Powell. That's the woman who recently died after at least four hours baking outside in the Arizona sun, while confined to a wire cage at Perryville Prison in Goodyear.
That Ryan made this call is an inconvenient fact that many of the news articles and columns covering Powell's demise have avoided. Indeed, ADC's own press release on the event obfuscates this fact. It notes that while "transferring Powell to a detention unit, she was placed in an outside, uncovered, chain-link holding cell at 11 a.m. Tuesday." The statement goes on to relate that Powell collapsed at 2:40 p.m., and was taken to the hospital at 3:12 p.m.
"She was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday," says the press release. But in a letter the Lumley Vampire has posted on its front page, an anonymous, retired corrections officer notes the reality of the situation.
"Marcia Powell was alive when she left Perryville Prison for the last time," observes the retired officer. "She died when Vader pulled her plug at the hospital."
"Vader," as in "Darth Vader," is what Ryan is commonly called by commenters on the Vampire. That handle goes back to the days when Ryan was deputy to ADC Director Terry Stewart, who was known as "The Emperor" during his reign from December 1995 to November 2002.
Ryan was named interim director of the ADC on January 30 by Governor Jan Brewer. This was after ADC Director Dora Schriro resigned her post to join her old boss, Homeland Security czar and ex-Governor Janet Napolitano, in D.C.
According to Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman, Ryan is still "interim director," though Ryan lists himself as the "director" on the ADC's Web site. Senseman explained via e-mail that Ryan would have to be okayed by the state Senate, assuming the governor submits his name for confirmation.
Perhaps Ryan's desire to be confirmed in his position explains the relative swiftness in which he has thrown underlings to the wolves. Ryan announced to the press that a "criminal investigation" is under way into the incident, and that three ADC employees, including a deputy warden, a captain, and a lieutenant have been suspended pending the outcome.
"The death of Marcia Powell is a tragedy and a failure," said Ryan in the department's press release. "The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether there was negligence and to remedy our failures."
Ryan then expressed "condolences to Ms. Powell's family and loved ones." But where was the next of kin when Ryan gave the order to suspend life support? And how hard did Ryan try to locate that next of kin, when Powell's plug was pulled hours after she had been admitted to the hospital?
A spokesman for ADC's media relations office acknowledged that Ryan made the decision to suspend Powell's life support, and promised to get back to me with details as to why. As this column went to press, I had not received that follow-up call.
Powell, who had a history of mental illness and drug dependency, was serving a 27-month stint for prostitution when she died. Although many have noted that Valley dog deaths often receive more public concern and media scrutiny than the deaths of prison inmates such as Powell, I can report that more than one individual is looking to take custody of Powell's remains for a memorial service of some kind. These include Phoenix criminal defense advocate Jameson Johnson, attorney and prison reform advocate Donna Hamm, and members of a local Quaker church.
(The county medical examiner has performed an autopsy but has yet to issue a report on Powell's death.)
Hopefully, Powell will find the repose she did not find in life. But in the wake of her death, there needs to be an investigation into Ryan's actions as well as those lower on the prison staff food chain. Already, as I detailed in a column item a couple of months back, Ryan comes to his interim post with a tremendous amount of baggage.
Ryan's own bio on the ADC Web site touts that he was "assistant program manager for the Department of Justice overseeing the Iraqi Prison System for almost four years." Ryan was contracted by the DOJ to help rebuild Iraqi prisons, one of those being the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, the subject of an embarrassing scandal involving the torture and humiliation of prisoners that was revealed by the New Yorker magazine and 60 Minutes in 2004.
In response to questions raised about those contracted by the DOJ to help with Iraqi prisons, the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General investigated how Ryan and others, such as Ryan's former superior and ADC director Terry Stewart, were hired. The OIG reported that Ryan and other contractors said they did not have access to the part of the prison controlled by the U.S. military. Ryan and two other contractors "denied witnessing any acts of abuse at Abu Ghraib and said they were unaware of the abuse until it became public."