Sheriff Joe Arpaio Faces New Lawsuits Over Last Year's Arrest of Demonstrators at Jail; One Protester Claims He was Beaten by Guards
Sunita Patel says in a federal complaint that she was acting as a legal observer when sheriff's deputies arrested her during a protest last year at the 4th Avenue Jail.
Image: Democracy Now
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is being sued again -- this time by four immigration activists arrested last summer during a protest at the 4th Avenue Jail.
Two of the plaintiffs are lawyers who acted as legal observers during the protest; one demonstrator claims he was beaten by guards.
Their allegations stem from a July 29, 2010 demonstration near the "sally port" driveway entrance to the jail, where some activists chained themselves together to protest the state's hotly contested anti-illegal-immigrant law, SB1070, and the state's "climate of hate." Dozens of protesters were arrested by Phoenix police and sheriff's deputies, including local activists Salvador Reza and Alfredo Gutierrez.
Two of the lawsuits were filed in federal court and two in Superior Court.
Gustavo Ramirez, a California resident, claims he wasn't blocking the sally port entrance before being arrested and thrown headfirst on the concrete of an "isolated" part of the jail's garage. As one deputy pressed his head to the ground, according to Ramirez's lawsuit, others "made sport out of kicking him in the back, legs, abdomen and other parts of his body, including his hands."
The scene was tense on July 29, 2010, as police and anti-SB1070 protesters squared off near the 4th Avenue Jail.
Image: Stephen Lemons
Ramirez describes how he was traumatized and bruised by the alleged beating and 20 hours of incarceration, but it's unclear if he required medical treatment.
Audrey Williams, 57, of Santa Barbara, California, claims in her lawsuit that she was among those protesting SB 1070 at the jail when she was arrested. She says she was detained for 26 hours and denied the medication she uses to control the pain from her fibromyalgia and arthritis, resulting in extreme discomfort and humiliation.
The lawyers, Sunita Patel and Roxanna Orrell, claim they were supporting the protesters as clearly identified legal observers, but weren't themselves protesting.
Patel, an immigration activist and staff attorney for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, states in her federal complaint she'd been photographing and videotaping the protesters on the sally port entrance before her arrest.
She admits that she walked onto the driveway after jail staff warned that anyone doing so would be arrested, describing how she'd just intended to the names of protesters she felt were about to be hauled off. Though she'd moved back onto the sidewalk, deputies singled her out and arrested her, she states.
During her 15 hours in jail, Patel claims, deputies grilled her about her place of birth. She refused to answer their question, at first. A judge later ordered her to be released on her own recognizance, but jail staff told her she couldn't leave until they determined her immigration status, "at which she point she relented and responded to their questions," the lawsuit says.
In the fourth lawsuit, Roxanna Orrell notes that she's a licensed attorney in Texas and Minnesota, and says she was working as legal observer on July 29, 2010, photographing the demonstrators. Orrell states that she was careful to obey all of the orders given by deputies at the scene, but was arrested anyway as she stood on a public sidewalk near the jail's entrance. Besides abusing her civil rights with the arrest, the jail staff kept her detained too long and kept losing her paperwork, she claims.
All of the criminal charges levied against the four protesters, including failure to obey a police officer and obstructing a governmental operation, were later dismissed in court.
They're seeking punitive damages and other remedies for their troubles.
Taxpayers ought to hope the county's kept its insurance premiums paid.
UPDATE: As of Monday evening, a judge was still considering the cases of the others arrested.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.