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One Mother’s Suffering, Joe Arpaio’s Bigotry, and Stories of Racial Profiling by the MCSO

Scenes from the struggle: Top left, Celia Alajandra Alvarez Herrera, with her son Miguel; top right, Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez (with broken arm); bottom left, Julio Mora with his father Julian; and, bottom right, inmates in Joe Arpaio's infamous "200 Mexican march."
Photos by Stephen Lemons


CELIA'S ANGUISH

On the surface, a Sunday morning at the home of Celia Alejandra Alvarez Herrera seems bright and joyous. Her four children scamper and play as she sits at the thick, wooden kitchen table. Her 1-year-old, Daniel, and her 6-year-old, Miguel, occasionally cling to her, seeking attention.

Her 9-year-old, Maria, glides around the house on sneaker skates. The eldest, Heidi, 11, disappears after dutifully sweeping the floor. All four are U.S.-born citizens.

The kitchen is airy and sunny, and a gray-and-white cockatiel chirps in a cage nearby. Herrera, 31, proudly shows off the work permit, and an Arizona ID she scored recently with the assistance of immigration attorney Kevin Gibbons, who ran unsuccessfully against notorious immigrant basher Russell Pearce in last year's GOP primary for the Arizona Senate.

"For most people, it's not a big deal," she said of the paperwork. "But for people like me, it's tremendous."

She no longer has to use her alias, Francisca Perez Mendoza, to obtain work, as she did at the Phoenix landscaping company H.M.I. before that county contractor was raided on February 11. She was arrested that day with about 60 co-workers.

But she says it's too scary to venture back into the work force. She's been so traumatized by her arrest and her time in MCSO custody that she sees a counselor through a local church and takes anti-anxiety medication. That's along with medication for a stomach ailment caused by pain meds she takes for the soreness in her jaw. The jaw she says was busted by a ski-masked MCSO deputy.

As you may recall from an item that I wrote about Herrera in my Feathered Bastard blog in April, before she was released from Estrella Jail, Herrera says she had just clocked in at H.M.I. when she learned that a Sheriff's Office raid was under way. As MCSO SWAT team members flooded the premises, Herrera hid underneath a bed in a trailer on the property. She was soon located by a deputy, who jerked her up and slammed her against a wall, injuring her jaw.

It wasn't her only injury. While she was getting processed, she saw her brother-in-law in line and tried to speak with him. Another deputy hit her forcefully with the metal part of a clipboard, supposedly for speaking to her relative. Her upper arm was bruised for weeks. Both deputies who assaulted her wore black ski masks, she claims.

It took her three weeks to see a healthcare provider in jail. Her jaw was in so much pain she could barely lie down to sleep. The provider prescribed ibuprofen for her jaw; for her arm, she got Preparation H to decrease the swelling. She had to pay for the ibuprofen. It was $10 for pack of about 15. The infirmary also took X-rays.

Once she was released, she saw an oral surgeon, Dr. Jack Buhrow, who treated her for a detached meniscus in her jaw. The meniscus is a bit of cartilage and muscle in the joint of the jaw that allows it to open and slide normally. Buhrow told me that an X-ray would not allow for a diagnosis. Rather, a diagnosis for a detached meniscus would normally come from observation and listening to the patient.

Buhrow performed a procedure on Herrera called a lavage, which Herrera says has helped her, though she still suffers soreness when she opens her mouth wide or laughs. Buhrow confirmed that, for some patients, the injury can be very painful. He also noted that ibuprofen would be "the initial drug of choice." Though keep in mind, Herrera went three weeks without even that.

Asked whether the injury could be consistent with Herrera's account of being flung against a wall, Buhrow said, "Oh, certainly."

But Herrera suffered more than physical injuries during her incarceration. As she was brought into custody, she was forced to strip and endure a cavity search as a male detention officer looked on. A male co-worker was also in the room with her, having the same thing done to him. They avoided each other's eyes during the process.

Herrera, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was wearing Mormon undergarments beneath her clothes when she was told to strip.

"I told them that I can't take these off; it's really important for my religion," recalled Herrera. "They said, 'It's not important. You have to take them off.' They said, 'If you don't take it off immediately, we're going to put you in the hole, in solitary.'"

Herrera reluctantly complied. While in Estrella, the guards were cruel and vulgar, calling the women housed there "prostitutes" and "bitches." Once, Herrera fell asleep while reading a Bible. It slipped out of her hand and onto the ground as she napped. She awoke to watch a guard confiscate the holy book and trash it.

 

The worst part of her confinement was the separation from her children. She'd still been nursing her youngest boy when she was arrested. Her husband and children relied on the help of their Mormon congregation to bring them food and help with childcare.

She was questioned by sheriff's deputies several times during her imprisonment. One, a female deputy named Lopez, seemed to be investigating her injuries, which she learned about through the healthcare provider. Other deputies questioned her about her employment with H.M.I.

On April 22, she was released from custody because of the combined efforts of her criminal attorney, Michael Eskander, her immigration lawyer Gibbons, and activist Lydia Guzman, of Respect/Respeto and Somos America. On September 28, she pleaded guilty to one count of criminal impersonation and received a fine and a year's probation.

Her psychologist says it may take her a year to get past the experience. Her large brown eyes well up with tears as she recounts her travails.

"I still have pain, but the worst pain is in my head," she tells me, later adding, "I have dreams where I'm still in jail, separated from my kids."

287(g) FOLLIES

What is most disconcerting about Herrera's treatment in Joe's jails is not so much that she was mistreated.

After all, the malfeasance of Joe's gendarmes, inside his vast incarceration complex and out of it, has cost citizens of this county more than $43 million in lawsuit judgments and legal costs. We have, over time, become inured to deaths caused by the brutality and incompetence of the MCSO. So why should we be surprised when a petite Hispanic woman is thrown around like a rag doll by MCSO thugs?

No, what truly disgusts is that such human-rights abuses have occurred under the imprimatur of the federal government. The H.M.I. raid took place under the aegis of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g), the program that has federally deputized 160 of Joe's deputies as immigration enforcers. Were the men who injured Herrera 287(g) officers? We may never know, as they were wearing masks. Still, if the feds had never empowered Arpaio with 287(g) authority, it's unlikely that any of the sweeps and raids that have made him notorious would have taken place.

We also know that 287(g) officers were present when Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez's arm was broken as they attempted to get her fingerprint on an ICE document in March. She had been arrested by Phoenix cops after they tried to cite her for putting up yard sale signs in her neighborhood. The police claimed the hausfrau's ID was phony and arrested her, shipping her off to Joe's jails.

There, 287(g) officers tried to get her to sign a voluntary removal. She refused. They then tried to get her fingerprint on ICE docs. An ICE spokesman later said the fingerprint was unnecessary. The 287(g) officer signing off on the paperwork was A. Reese. The MCSO quickly turned over Garcia-Martinez to ICE, like a broken toy they no longer wanted to play with. ICE took her to a hospital where her arm was bound in a cast. ICE agents took photos of her injuries and released her on her own recognizance.

Garcia-Martinez is a homemaker. She doesn't hold a job and says she's been in the country for 20 years. Currently, she is being represented by Phoenix attorney Danny Ortega, who has filed a notice of claim against the county, indicating Garcia-Martinez's intention to sue for damages.

As this column goes to press, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice informs me that an announcement on whether Arpaio's 287(g) jails agreement will be curtailed (as his field enforcement already has) is expected by week's end.

Despite the lost street agreement, Arpaio says defiantly he will continue his sweeps. He says he has the authority to do so under federal law, but as I pointed out in a recent blog post, the law he cited in a handout during his press conference last week is nonexistent. The language he attempts to pass off as being from the federal code actually comes from the Web site of the nativist group Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control.

Since losing official 287(g) field operations, Arpaio's called employees of the Department of Homeland Security "liars." He told Glenn Beck on Beck's Fox TV show that he has the power to arrest people based on their dress, speech, or if they look like they are from another country. When Beck asked why non-criminal aliens couldn't be held in alternative settings such as reclaimed hotels, Joe told him, "They like to fight each other."

In an article for GQ magazine online by writer Alexander Provan, Arpaio lost any mental filter regarding race that he's ever had. He told Provan that migrants from Mexico bring disease. "They're all dirty," he insisted. Provan described Arpaio's appearance before a ladies' lunch group, where he dug his hole deeper while trying to defend himself.

 

"My daughter has adopted children of various ethnicities," he informed the group. "I got a black, a Mexican with Down syndrome even. And yet I'm the racist, I'm the fascist, I'm the Hitler!"

Talk about Archie Bunker with a badge. The grandchildren he's so crudely referring to apparently belong to his daughter Sherry Boas and her husband, Arizona Republic editorial board member Phil Boas.

Is it any surprise, then, that a man with such an antiquated, 1950s worldview has marched 200 Latino prisoners through the streets of Phoenix to a segregated Tent City, as he did in February, or that he's misused his federal authority, opening the door to the physical abuse of immigration detainees?

Given such abuses, why would the federal government want to continue to empower him — thereby aiding and abetting in all the broken arms, busted jaws, and crushed lives?

Even if the feds announce the termination of Arpaio's jails agreement, what will they do if Arpaio, in defiance of federal authority, loads up a bus of suspected aliens and heads to the border, as he's promised?

Not since Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama, attempting to block black students from entering, has there been a local official so contemptuous of the federal government and so eager for a confrontation. Back then, President John F. Kennedy had the intestinal fortitude to call up the National Guard, to which, Wallace ultimately ceded.

Does President Barack Obama have the same fortitude, the sort of courage you might expect of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient? It's time to earn that prize, Mr. President. Or the damage done by Arpaio's continued rampage against Hispanics is on your head.

THE HUNTED

During a recent meeting of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, where the Supes agreed 3-2 to sign off on a 287(g) jails agreement as long as the feds sign it first, speakers for and against the new contract rose to address the chairman. One blue-hair on the nativist side of the debate demanded to see "one, just one" example of Sheriff Joe's racial-profiling ways.

Well, we're going to do that lady several better than just one. This column kicks off a sequence of online profiles of the profiled — proof-positive that Arpaio's as guilty of racial profiling as Rush Limbaugh is of having a fat head.

You'll meet some familiar faces, and many unfamiliar ones. Men and women. Upper and lower class. Recent arrivals and longtime residents. The one thing they all have in common is that they were singled out by the MCSO because of the color of their skin.

They will include Julian and Julio Mora, the Avondale father and son, respectively, who were stopped outside H.M.I on the day of the February 11 raid, restrained with zip-ties around their wrists, held for three hours, and humiliated. This, despite Julio Mora's being an American citizen and his father, Julian, a legal, permanent resident. They are now suing Arpaio and the county for damages.

You'll also meet plaintiffs in the big Melendres vs. Arpaio racial-profiling lawsuit in federal court.

But there are many others profiled by the sheriff who had to be cajoled into sharing their stories. Despite the cajoling of our writers, many more refused to talk about their ill-treatment by the sheriff's forces.

In our first individual Web story ("State of Fear"), a legal secretary who did not want her birth name revealed talks about the terror a racial-profiling incident can instill in someone who normally would have nothing to fear from the police.

Later, we will bring you a chilling case of a racially profiled, expectant mother, who gives birth while incarcerated, chained to a hospital bed.

In another story, a seasonal worker with a valid visa was held for 12 days in jail on bogus charges until they were dismissed by a judge.

In others, a 64-year-old Hispanic U.S. citizen was roughed up after getting arrested for speeding and not showing his ID quickly enough, and an 18-year-old citizen was arrested after he was asked for his ID and couldn't produce it.

Collectively, these individual stories put a face on racial profiling by Arpaio's forces, and reveal the sinister reality that Latinos are immediately suspect to the MCSO because of their ethnicity.

It matters not how many generations your family's been here, how much money you make, whether or not you have a green card, or even if you're a U.S. citizen. The prejudice cuts across all these lines, creating a two-tier system of law enforcement.

One for those who are brown (and thereby might be illegal) and one for everybody else.


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