Miriam Mendiola-Martinez is a small woman, but her passive, sad demeanor makes her seem smaller. When she was busted by Scottsdale police for using false ID at her place of employment for six years — Dillard's department store — the arresting officer estimated the then-pregnant Latina's build at 4-foot-9 and 120 pounds.
She later told investigators that she'd purchased another person's identity on the street for about $400. She knew what she was doing was illegal, but it allowed her to work at Dillard's as a cleaning lady, helping to raise her American-born children. Her third child, Angel Carmarena Mendiola, was born December 21 at Maricopa Integrated Health System (the county hospital) while Miriam was still in MCSO custody.
In some ways, she was lucky. The MCSO's policy heretofore has been to shackle pregnant women as they give birth. My colleague Valeria Fernandez has previously reported on this MCSO policy for New Times, describing the ordeal of another pregnant Latina who was shackled throughout her labor, despite the wishes of healthcare providers.
But during Mendiola-Martinez's C-section at county, her female MCSO guard cut her some uncharacteristic slack by not shackling her during the actual operation. Afterward, though she was in terrific pain and could barely walk, the male guard who took over for the female officer shackled the new mother to her hospital bed. This, despite that she was repeatedly checked on by the same male guard, who also happened to be Hispanic, she said.
"He made the restraint on my left ankle very tight," she recalled through an interpreter. "One time, the nurse came in and could see that my foot was swollen because he would not loosen it."
Mendiola-Martinez had been shackled on and off throughout her 62 days in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's barbaric gulags. Each time she had a court appearance, she was strip-searched and shackled, as were the other prisoners. When she finally left the hospital on December 23, she was forced to march in shackles, her hands bound before her, the wound from her C-section still bleeding.
Though she'd been allowed two short visits with her baby, she didn't know what would happen to her child as she tried to keep pace with her armed escort. Later, she learned that her sister-in-law had picked up the child before she was ushered back to Lower Buckeye Jail. See, she had a court appearance to make before Commissioner David O. Cunanan on December 24.
Through the pro bono legal maneuvering of her criminal attorney David Black and the valiant efforts of her immigration lawyer Delia Salvatierra, she was finally released on Christmas Day. Black and the County Attorney's Office agreed on a plea deal: The 34-year-old mother of three pleaded guilty to a class 6 felony of solicitation to commit a forgery and was sentenced to time served and probation.
Salvatierra peppered ICE with legal paperwork before her client's release. Normally, an undocumented alien would be turned over to ICE after being cut loose from Arpaio's vast incarceration complex. From there, an undocumented immigrant might go on to a detention center at Florence or Eloy or even be deported back to Mexico, depending on the circumstances.
ICE, however, decided not to take Arpaio's damaged goods. No doubt, something about a pregnant woman separated from her child on the day of Jesus Christ's birth screamed bad publicity. However, ICE spokesman Vinnie Picard wouldn't cop to that.
"The decision as to whether an alien will be detained while his or her immigration case goes forward," said Picard, "is made on an individual basis depending on a variety of factors, including medical and other humanitarian considerations."
Indeed, during the George W. Bush administration, ICE Assistant Secretary Julie Meyers issued a memorandum highlighting the importance of ICE officers using their discretion when it comes to "arrest and custody determinations" concerning pregnant or nursing mothers. It probably didn't hurt that Salvatierra submitted this document as a reminder to ICE while advocating for her client.
ICE's own guidelines state, "Restraints for medical or mental-health purposes may be authorized only by the facility's clinical medical authority after reaching the conclusion that less restrictive measures are not appropriate."
The Arizona Department of Corrections has an almost identical policy in place. But such norms of humanity are not observed by the MCSO.
Questioned by reporter Fernandez for her story on the shackling of expectant moms, MCSO apologist and Deputy Chief Jack MacIntyre cited the possibility that a woman might be "faking labor" and attempt escape.
Why a woman in great physical agony would try to run away from the hospital she assumes her newborn is still in is a conundrum only someone as slithery as MacIntyre could envision.
MCSO media liaison Lieutenant Brian Lee claimed that Mendiola-Martinez wasn't really shackled, but rather "had a soft restraint attached on one leg" to keep her from escaping.
"This is consistent with any inmate being treated in an unsecured facility," asserted Lee, adding that, regardless of the charge, "MCSO would have treated other inmates in the same manner."
Thing is, identity theft — terrible as it may be for some — isn't exactly armed robbery or murder. And treating postpartum moms like canines on a leash is another in a long list of abuses that don't speak well for the MCSO.
As for how "soft" the restraint was, Mendiola-Martinez described it as being plastic on the end with a chain tying her to the bed. And as she explained above, it was hardly comfortable.
Michael Murphy, spokesman for the county hospital, stated that doctors and staff defer to law enforcement on the issue of shackling pregnant moms. Records I obtained from Maricopa Integrated Health System after Mendiola-Martinez signed a release form, confirmed that she was, in fact, shackled following her C-section.
The child was not large (6 pounds, 7 ounces), according to Mendiola-Martinez, who wonders whether the lack of food she received while in jail might have somehow harmed the baby she was carrying.
Arpaio has often bragged that he feeds dogs in his kennels better than his prisoners. This was certainly the case for Mendiola-Martinez. Her first meal of the day while in jail was some bread, two slices of cheese, crackers, and two small cartons of milk.
The second meal was often so vile she could not eat it: grotesque, ground mystery meat, oily bread, maybe some steamed vegetables.
I'll leave it to the women out there who've been pregnant to determine whether those two meals sound like enough for an expectant mother. Fortunately, the food she received at the hospital was far more fortifying.
ICE's decision not to take Mendiola-Martinez into custody is admirable. Attorney Salvatierra went so far as describing the agency's actions as "putting on a new face." But ICE still allows Arpaio to maintain the 287(g) program in his jails, even though the MCSO's street authority was jerked in 2009.
Mendiola-Martinez had an ICE hold on her. True, she was in MCSO's custody, not ICE's. But how can ICE continue to partner with a facility so infamous — and often deadly for those inside? How can it reconcile Arpaio's systemic cruelty with the federal government's own guidelines?
I'm sure many in Arizona, and elsewhere, will applaud Mendiola-Martinez's treatment, her shackling, and the poor nutrition she received while pregnant. I can already hear them blaming any harm to her child on her own actions.
I was thinking of this when I asked Mendiola-Martinez why she named her child Angel. She described one of her phone calls to relatives while she was incarcerated.
"My aunt told me to name the baby Angel because he is the one accompanying me into the darkness," she remembered, glancing at her child sleeping next to her. "I wasn't sure about it, but before the C-section, the name came to me. I prayed to the angels in heaven to help me get through this. And they did."
LINDA AND JOE
Tucson native and rock diva Linda Ronstadt denounced Sheriff Joe as a heartless tyrant when I spoke to her the other day for my Feathered Bastard blog. Can't say that I'd disagree with her, considering Mendiola-Martinez's saga and the countless other tales of woe that have resulted from the brutality of Arpaio's gendarmes.
"He's a sadistic man," said the multi-Grammy winner of Arpaio. "He doesn't have great respect for the law. I come from a police family. My brother was the chief of police in Tucson for many years, a real lawman . . . He was the one who made me understand that when the law is unevenly applied or badly applied, it weakens all law. That's what's very concerning about Sheriff Arpaio."
The onetime paramour of former California Governor Jerry Brown, a.k.a. "Governor Moonbeam," was explaining her promise to march alongside thousands of activists planning to converge on Phoenix on January 16 for a National Day of Action, which is to include a walk to Arpaio's jails and a rally and concert afterwards.
Dubbed the "Queen of Rock" in the '70s by Rolling Stone, Ronstadt said she was moved by Arpaio's abuses of power to participate in the demonstration, organized in large part by the California-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network and Phoenix civil rights activist Sal Reza's Puente Movement.
Ronstadt, who has a home in Tucson, where she lives part of the year, cited Arpaio's raids against the undocumented, his mistreatment of prisoners, and deaths in his jails as reasons for criticizing him. She also blasted Arpaio's police-state tactics against those who speak out against his iron rule.
"Any of us could be snatched off the street without a warrant because of the way Arpaio is applying the law," warned Ronstadt. "He's had people go and arrest Republicans [who] have opposed him . . . They have these trumped-up charges and then, later on, they go, 'Oh, well, I guess we weren't right about these charges.' By then, the damage is done."
The soulful songstress claims deep roots in southern Arizona. Her paternal grandfather, Fred Ronstadt, was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States during the 19th century to apprentice at wagon-making. The Ronstadt family name is German, she told me, and is indicative of the European settlers who migrated to Mexico and married locals.
Fred Ronstadt later owned a large, family-run hardware store in downtown Tucson that closed in the 1970s. Linda Ronstadt grew up eating tamales during Christmas and singing family songs in Spanish. She eventually recorded the songs for an album released in 1987 called Canciones De Mi Padre (Songs of My Father), a huge commercial success.
"I have a couple of dogs in this fight," she said. "I love Arizona. I've always been very proud of being from Arizona. I don't want this awful man to make me ashamed that I'm from this state."
On January 16, Ronstadt's scheduled to join United Farm Workers icon Dolores Huerta, and Rage Against the Machine/One Day as a Lion frontman Zack de la Rocha, in a walk from Phoenix's Falcon Park to Arpaio's jail complex near Durango Street and 35th Avenue. There, organizers intend to march around the jails, then end with a rally that will include a performance by the Tejano act Little Joe y La Familia.
Ronstadt helped get Little Joe y La Familia to perform at the event, calling them "one of my favorite acts in the music business." She left open the possibility that she would join them in song at the end of the march.
"It depends on whether or not we have time to rehearse," Ronstadt said. "I've never performed with [Little Joe], but if I can, I'll get up and sing a song with him."
Okay, maybe Ronstadt ain't no Lady Gaga, celeb-wise, these days. But back in the day, she filled stadiums, toured with The Doors, and collaborated with Don Henley, Neil Young, and Frank Zappa. There's also something very cool about the local-gal-turned-legend joining the battle against Maricopa County's ogre of a sheriff.
Plus, who needs Lady Gaga? Especially if the Queen of Rock decides to croon her 1975 hit "You're No Good" for the crowd and dedicates it to Sheriff Joe.
I was gratified to see Arizona's paper of record follow my reporting on the deposition Sheriff Joe just gave in the big Melendres vs. Arpaio racial-profiling lawsuit, though the piece by JJ Hensley tells you nothing you didn't already know from my Feathered Bastard blog.
Even Channel 12 — the Rep's TV sibling — beat 'em to the dog-food bowl on this one. For my initial report on Arpaio's seven hours of grilling by plaintiffs' attorney David Bodney, check out my December 30 blog "Sheriff Joe, Clueless or Cunning?" and its subsequent follow-ups.
What Hensley's article doesn't mention is what ol' Joe had to say about the Rep's smirking scribbler, E.J. Montini.
Arpaio's asked by Bodney about a quote in a past Montini column in which Joe says, according to the deposition, "[Former Mesa police chief George Gascón] doesn't like me too much, I guess . . . but that's all right. My deputies will be going to arrest illegals right in his town."
Bodney pressed Joe on whether he uttered this, and Joe suggested that Montini might have bollixed the quote.
"Well," he replied, "E.J. has a way of twisting words around, so I don't recall if it was in that context."
Later, Joe's queried on whether he had read the Montini article.
"You know," Joe responded, "I may have. Let me just say this: In all my conversations with E.J., we banter back and forth. That's what he does. He is pretty good at it, and we have fun talking. It doesn't mean everything he or I say is 100 percent true."
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Ouch, and telling.
Seeing that Arpaio and Montini are such swell pals, I have no doubt E.J. will be dialing Arpaio soon to "banter back and forth" about that "100 percent true" line. Of course, this is the same lawman who says he hasn't read his own book and is unfamiliar with the content of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
And, anyway, every columnist needs grist for the grind. Now E.J. doesn't even have to read the entire deposition, much less watch it. All he has to do is borrow from me. In other words (and I'm smiling when I say this), I've just written one of Montini's columns for him.