MORE

109 Degrees of Incarceration

Lance Paul Hawthorne was not a model citizen.
When a landlord attempted in 1989 to evict Hawthorne for not paying rent, the overweight, sparsely employed photographer opened fire with a .22 revolver, shooting through his door and walls. After Hawthorne, then 44, was arrested, the converted garage he lived in was searched, and amid some photos of nude women was found a canister of photographic negatives of young, undressed boys.

Hawthorne claimed to have received them from another photographer in the early 1970s, when such photos were not illegal, and he denied that he had produced the shots himself. Two detectives recommended that Hawthorne be monitored by the court, but one judged that Hawthorne was "not a severe threat . . . he just liked to look at pictures, but was probably not a predator." His defense attorney argued, meanwhile, that photos of nude children--not engaged in sexual activity--did not meet the legal definition of "lewd" material.

The court disagreed. In 1991, Hawthorne was convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor and received five years probation for possessing the negatives. Months later, during a subsequent search of his apartment, Hawthorne was found to be in possession of pornographic material of adults as well as letters from children. After the search, Hawthorne stopped communicating with his probation officer. Five months later, he was arrested and sentenced to a more intensive form of probation and ordered to spend 12 months in a jail work furlough program.

In jail, Hawthorne wrote in a court document, he was beaten by inmates who learned that he was a sex offender. A week into his incarceration, claiming that he feared for his safety, Hawthorne walked away during his workday and absconded to California, where he lived for several years. After Hawthorne's escape, a former associate remembers seeing his mug shot televised on an Arizona's Most Wanted television program.

Two years ago, Hawthorne returned to Arizona and was arrested to face charges for again violating his probation conditions. (The jail escape charge was not brought against him.) Sitting in jail in the summer of 1997, Hawthorne awaited his fate. A presentencing report recommended that Hawthorne receive prison time. He certainly deserved to pay a price for not abiding by the punishments he'd been given earlier.

But none of Hawthorne's transgressions called for the death penalty he received in Madison Street Jail.

On the night of August 21, 1997, Lance Hawthorne baked in a cell so hot, his freshly expired corpse was measured at 109 degrees. An investigator wrote that the cramped cell received virtually no air circulation.

Days before Hawthorne's death, what little circulation the cell did get had been cut off by a detention officer because Hawthorne's cellmate had said something the officer didn't like, according to the sheriff's investigation.

Now, Lance Hawthorne's mother, Helen, wants to know why a 314-pound man with a known heart condition was put into a sweatbox of a cell in a jail with antiquated, unreliable swamp coolers. And she's taking Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the taxpayers of Maricopa County to court to get her answers. She's asking $1 million in damages.

"I'd like to know why my son died over there," she tells New Times. "Maybe he [Arpaio] could have prevented it if they'd had better facilities."

Perhaps he could have. But after years of warnings from outside agencies and lawsuits over maimed and dead inmates, Arpaio still seems to show no interest in taking such warnings seriously.

Arpaio has toned down the rhetoric that marked the first three years of his tenure, when he bragged that he had created a jail where inmates--even those awaiting trial under a presumption of innocence--were punished so severely that they'd never want to come back.

A study has shown that his plan hasn't worked; inmates' rate of return to jail has not declined.

And in 1996, inmate Scott Norberg died while being stuffed into a restraint chair by more than a dozen jail guards, paraplegic Richard Post received permanent neck damage when he was clamped down into a restraint chair, and inmate Robert Butler was found dead in his cell having suffered, in part, from a beating. The Department of Justice is investigating the deaths of both Norberg and Butler. The Norberg family won an $8.25 million settlement against the county, and Post is seeking $6.5 million for his injuries.

Arpaio reacted by dropping his claims about "punishing" inmates and instead became careful to say that he ran a "humane" but tough jail. For the past two years, he's promoted the idea that conditions in his jails have improved, even if he hasn't knuckled under to U.S. Justice Department and Amnesty International calls for major changes.

Court records suggest that Arpaio's rhetoric may have changed, but conditions in his jail have not. A document prepared by the sheriff's office shows that of 174 lawsuits currently facing the agency, 82 were filed in 1997 and 1998.  

One of those is Hawthorne v. Arpaio, et al.
Seventy-nine-year-old Helen Hawthorne talks about missing her son Lance as if he were still a small boy. When she tries to tell his life story, she gets whole decades mixed up. But eventually, Lance's tale emerges, a tale about a peripatetic loner who formed closer relationships with gadgets than he did with people.

Helen's narrative and court records reflect that Lance was victimized by an abusive, alcoholic father whom Helen divorced in 1958. In 1953, at 9, Lance fell and suffered a concussion. A school psychologist later theorized that Lance's academic problems were related to the head injury and his "dysfunctional family situation."

After the divorce, the Hawthornes fought over custody of Lance. Despite his alcoholism and history of abusing his son, Ross Hawthorne was awarded custody. Helen says a court psychologist found her "too lenient."

But upon turning 18, Lance was kicked out of his father's house. For the rest of his life, Helen says, Lance would live on and off with his mother. When he wasn't living with his mother in Phoenix, he preferred California, and even managed to land a job in the movie industry doing technical work. But for the most part, Lance Hawthorne bounced from one menial job to another and lived on a meager income.

According to court records, in 1989 he had been living rent-free for several months in a garage owned by John Hauke when Hauke rented the property's main house to new tenants. Hauke told Dennis Stone, one of the new tenants, that he wanted Hawthorne out, and that he'd appreciate any help Stone might give in evicting him.

So Stone knocked on Hawthorne's door on March 12, demanded that Hawthorne move out, and then ducked as bullets started flying.

Hawthorne told police that Hauke and Stone were telling lies. He was actually current with his rent, he claimed. And he'd recently returned from a trip to find that his room had been burglarized. That's why he'd reacted with a hair trigger when, in his version, Stone had tried to break in with a piece of rebar. Police did find a piece of rebar stuck in Hawthorne's door.

Hawthorne wasn't prosecuted for firing his weapon. Instead, it was the photographic negatives of nude children found in Hawthorne's room that got him in trouble. After that, Hawthorne's failures to abide by the court's rules of probation dug him in deeper and deeper.

But Helen Hawthorne either is unaware of her son's misdeeds or chooses not to dwell on them. She says repeatedly that she would have been glad to take him in again if the court had only allowed her. Her son was just mixed up, she says.

"He was a very intelligent boy. He had good grammar."
Lance Hawthorne was jailed for the last time on June 20, 1997, and he complained that the threat of being beaten by other inmates wasn't the only problem he faced.

An obese man with serious health problems--he had been declared unable to work years earlier because of his heart ailment--Hawthorne found the heat of Towers Jail unbearable.

"It is very uncomfortable for me in here," he wrote to his mother. "I feel like hell. It is very hot in here. I am covered in heat rash--just awful."

Meanwhile, other inmates targeted Hawthorne as a "child molester" (Hawthorne, however, had no criminal record of physically touching a child), and on August 5, Hawthorne filled out an inmate request form with a terse note: "I have been told I will be subject to attack if I do not leave. I was hit once already. I fear for my safety." His request was denied.

On August 18, Hawthorne showed guards that he had a black eye and said that he'd been attacked. The next day, he was moved to Madison Street Jail.

His cellmate there, Leavere Garvin Smith, told investigators that he got along fine with Hawthorne in the two days that they shared their cell. Shortly after Hawthorne arrived, the heavy man left his cell to take a shower. Garvin took advantage of the open cell door to put out a bag of dirty laundry for cleaning. When a guard asked him about it, however, Garvin admitted to investigators that he gave an evasive answer.

As punishment, the guard shut a trap door that was the only source of fresh air in the small cell. For the next two days, the trap door stayed closed as the temperature in the cell climbed.  

"If the trap is shut, there is virtually no fresh air that is being circulated," sheriff's detective A.M. Luna wrote in his investigative report. Smith told Luna that he believed Hawthorne was suffering from some sort of chest congestion, and on the 21st, he seemed to be worsening. "Smith told me he believed that the heat was getting to Hawthorne."

That night, Smith said that Hawthorne was coughing "real hard . . . was having a hard time breathing, and some sort of foam was coming from his mouth. Smith also noticed that Hawthorne had pus around his eyes and his face was extremely red."

Smith and neighboring inmates began clamoring for help.
Guards found Hawthorne unresponsive at 11:45 p.m. on August 21. Hawthorne was taken to Phoenix Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:55 a.m.

Dr. Philip Keen, the county's medical examiner, determined Hawthorne was killed by atherosclerotic coronary artery disease combined with acute hyperthermia. Keen, in his autopsy report, says Hawthorne's high body temperature was "unexplained."

Keen had apparently not been told that the air vent to Hawthorne's cell had been closed.

Detective Luna visited the jail cell to measure its temperature, but five hours had passed since Hawthorne and Smith had been taken out of it and the cell door was open, Luna wrote. Even so, a thermometer placed on Smith's bunk measured 94 degrees. What the room measured with the cell door closed and the two men in their bunks, Luna could apparently not estimate.

Wrote Luna: "Smith said that it gets hotter if the trap door to the cell is closed. In this case the trap door was closed ever since Hawthorne was transferred in. I asked Smith if the trap door is normally kept closed, he said that it is usually kept open but the Officers close it as a form of discipline."

Sheriff Arpaio takes advantage of a misconception common among the public: that jail and prison are synonymous. But as the county's jailer, Arpaio's job, with at least 70 percent of his inmates awaiting trial, is simply to house the accused until their cases can be adjudicated in court. Arpaio is, in other words, a caretaker. It is up to judges and juries to decide the fate of the men and women in Arpaio's jails.

Some will no doubt be glad to learn that a man such as Lance Hawthorne suffered an ignominious death in Arpaio's care. But the sheriff's failure to deliver Hawthorne to his day in court could be an expensive one for taxpayers.

And sheriff's employees tell New Times that the problems with heat in Madison Street Jail have not been fixed.

The warmest weather of 1999 struck in the middle of April. On the 19th, with temperatures nearing the century mark, the swamp coolers of the jail proved ineffective, and detention officers had to quell a near riot. Employees say that inmates refused to enter their cells on one of the jail's floors, and detention officers donned riot gear. "They eventually cut a deal with the inmates by agreeing to bring them ice water," says a sheriff's source.

Contact Tony Ortega at his online address: tortega@newtimes.com


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >