Tent City Beating is Nearly Fatal
On May 22, as he fielded questions on KFYI radio, Sheriff Joe Arpaio scoffed at accusations that his Tent City jail is inviting catastrophe.
"I haven't had any riots, I haven't had any problems with the tents or the jails. Where are my riots?" Arpaio said.
Judy Flanders couldn't believe what she was hearing. The Gilbert resident and optician called KFYI to confront Arpaio about her son, Jeremy, a Tent City inmate who last month spent two days on life support after being savagely beaten. She never got through.
Lieutenant Tim Campbell, one of the sheriff's public information officers, confirms that Arpaio was aware of the beating when he made his comments.
Jeremy Flanders, 20, is serving a yearlong sentence for four counts of burglary. On the afternoon of May 10, he had gone to bed early after a day of work as a chain-gang trusty. Only three guards were in place to watch more than 1,000 inmates, and they were staying comfortable in an office, away from the tents themselves. None of the guards heard a thing, apparently, when Flanders was pulled from his bed. He was beaten so badly that he was comatose when he was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and put on a ventilator.
The incident is under investigation by the Sheriff's Office, and according to a witness who talked to New Times, what those investigators will find is that Jeremy Flanders was the victim of an unprovoked attack. And the weapons? The fists and feet of seven inmates, and one heavy, hard object: a tent stake.
When Jeremy Flanders was arrested for attempting to burglarize a home in May 1995, he did what would make any defense attorney cringe: He admitted to other crimes. His parents say he was determined to "come clean" after turning to theft to feed a drug habit. So he admitted to three unsolved burglaries and was sentenced to a year in Sheriff Arpaio's jail.
"Jeremy did something wrong, and he should be punished for it," Judy Flanders says. "He's made a lot of bad decisions in his life. But I want people to know we're not the kind of parents who let our kids run wild." She points out that their other child, Jeremy's older brother, Jason, is an optician and has been working to become a police officer.
Since Jeremy began his incarceration, the Flanderses say they've been in constant touch with him, visiting two to three times a week. They say he seemed determined to make the most of it: He entered drug rehabilitation, earned his GED, became a trusty, and worked at several jobs in the jail.
But along the way, he made an enemy. According to the anonymous letter sent to Jeremy while he was at St. Joseph's Hospital, as well as a recently released inmate who witnessed the beating, that person was someone named "Joe."
The recently released inmate--we'll call him Williams--tells New Times he was not certain why Jeremy Flanders was targeted but he thinks it may have been a disagreement over cigarettes, which are supposed to be verboten in Arpaio's jails but which he says sell for $10 a pack in the tents.
Williams says Joe "put a hit" on Flanders, and seven inmates carried it out. He says the three detention officers assigned to the tents area were inside an office. Williams says that the guards make trips through the tents every one or two hours, and that sometimes no inspections are made for up to four hours.
Sheriff Arpaio constantly crows that his Tent City is safe, and on May 22, he repeated his favorite--albeit erroneous--proof of it: "I slept in the tents with only two officers guarding a thousand people. I didn't have extra guards and so on. But I survived," he said.
But the Sheriff's Office admits that each of the two nights Arpaio spent in his tents, officers from the Tactical Operations Unit--Maricopa's version of SWAT--were stationed in a nearby building all night in case Arpaio needed rescuing, and one sharpshooter was stationed on the roof of Estrella Jail overlooking the tents.
No TOU sharpshooters were on the roof the afternoon of May 10, however, when seven inmates went looking for Jeremy Flanders.
At about 5:30 p.m., the inmates pulled a sleeping Flanders from his top bunk and began beating him. "They were jumping on his head," Williams says. Although a fence separated their tents, Williams says the flaps on Flanders' tent didn't come all the way to the ground, and he could see Flanders being kicked.
Finally, an inmate named Chris Champion came to Flanders' rescue. Williams says that after Champion entered the tent, the attackers scattered. Champion then picked up Flanders and carried him to the guards' office, tripping and dropping Flanders once along the way.
Williams says Flanders was covered in his own blood and seemed to be choking on it. There was a five-inch gash on the back of his head and abrasions and bruises on his face. His head was beginning to swell.
Williams says the reaction of the guards was surprising: Flanders had been a favorite of the guards, Williams says, a good kid who was trying his best to turn his life around. One of the guards, a female detention officer, seemed so upset that she didn't bother to put gloves on before treating the injured inmate--something guards are never supposed to do, Williams says.
As Flanders was taken away, guards went to his tent to secure it as a crime scene. Williams says that as the guards were searching the tent, he heard a very distinct sound that he'd heard several times before: a heavy, metallic ringing.
"I heard a tent stake," he says. "There's only one other metal object that could have been in that tent and it was a bunk. But you couldn't pick up a bunk and drop it and make that 'cling cling' sound." The stakes are relatively easy to pull out of the ground, Williams says, and he's seen inmates carrying them several times in the past.
Campbell says the officer investigating the beating was unavailable to comment on Williams' assertion, but added that the Sheriff's Office would be unlikely to reveal details of its findings while the investigation is under way.
Williams says the inmates were also kept in the dark, not only about the nature and cause of the attack but also of Flanders' condition. The inmates assumed Jeremy Flanders would die.
Although his son's head had swelled so much one of his ears seemed to have been swallowed by it, Tom Flanders says the thing that made him most angry was to find out his son had been in St. Joseph's Hospital nearly a full day before the family was notified.
On Saturday morning, May 11, Judy and Tom Flanders were told that their son was in the intensive care unit at St. Joseph's, and that he required a ventilator to keep him breathing. They rushed to the hospital to find their son unconscious, his head distended immensely. Doctors explained that a CT scan had shown brain swelling.
The guard told them something else: The Flanderses couldn't take photographs of their son. They had made that request, but the guard told them he couldn't authorize it until he'd checked with his supervisor. He finally gave them permission to do so on Monday. By then, the Flanderses say, much of Jeremy's swelling had subsided and he'd been taken off the ventilator.
He was still having trouble eating, however, and his father says he needed help to walk to the bathroom. That's why they were surprised when they were told Jeremy would be moved the next day.
Dr. Salvatore Casano, who closed the gash on the back of Jeremy's head, says it's standard practice to move an inmate to the Maricopa Medical Center as soon as possible, and in this case, since Jeremy wasn't hooked up to an IV and his heart and breathing weren't being monitored, he was ready to be moved.
So Tuesday afternoon, May 14, Jeremy Flanders left St. Joseph's Hospital for the Maricopa Medical Center, only two days after being taken off life support. The next day, his mother called to talk to him, only to find that Jeremy had spent only a very short time at the medical center.
By that Wednesday afternoon, with staples still in his head, Jeremy Flanders was in a holding tank at the Madison Street Jail.
When Jeremy Flanders comes into a visitation room at the jail, it's hard to believe that seven inmates jumping on his head didn't kill him. He's very small, maybe five feet five, and the hand he extends has little strength in it.
His head is shaved, and it still shows the scars of being knocked around. One eye is still red with blood. Scabs and a lump form a ridge above his right temple. The scar on the back of his scalp seems to be healing nicely.
Flanders says he feels pretty good, considering. He's not very talkative, and he waits for questions before answering in a respectful way. It's not hard to see why guards took a liking to him. Flanders says he was given the job of cleaning the guards' "dayroom" and got to know them well. Then, recently, he asked to be transferred to the chain-gang detail.
As a trusty, he was allowed to go out with the chain gang without being chained himself. He'd help with the tools the chain gang used, and with supplying the men with food. Flanders says he appreciated the chance to spend hours away from the jail.
The tents, he says, were the worst place for a former drug user to stay clean.
Seven months in Durango Jail awaiting trial had kicked his crack habit, Flanders says, because the stuff simply wasn't available. After sentencing, however, Flanders was sent to Tent City.
"I wasn't there an hour when I saw people smoking dope, shooting up." He says he's managed to stay clean, but it's tougher when so many drugs are available. "Durango is more like a jail. The tents is more like the street," he says.
"It's not that hard to get beat up [in the tents]. There's almost no guards. Only on certain days when Joe Arpaio is there, then there are a lot of security people."
Despite the lack of guards and the presence of drugs, Flanders says he was doing well in Tent City. Except that he'd managed to make one enemy. Flanders acknowledges that "Joe" had become a problem.
"I know who he is. He doesn't like me. That was the only enemy I had." Flanders says that the original disagreement between them had something to do with cigarettes, but he doesn't elaborate. "I offered to fight him one on one and he refused. That was the night before I got beat up."
Flanders remembers going to bed on Thursday night. The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital room Sunday and seeing his brother. He not only doesn't remember the attack, he doesn't even remember working Friday.
"I guess I almost died. I was told someone had to do CPR on me. I woke up with tubes down my throat," he says matter-of-factly.
The entire episode seems hardly to have affected him, and he says he's not really worried about being sent back to the tents. It's hard to tell if he's telling the truth, or if after a year in jail, he's learned to talk a flat, emotionless talk. Flanders can only relate what he's been told about the beating itself, as if it happened to someone else.
"Somebody in the Horseshoe [the Madison Street Jail holding area] said a tent stake caused the cut on the back of my head."
Judy Flanders tries to communicate the frustration she felt that week, but she knows it's something that's difficult to explain. "Until you've walked in our shoes, you have no idea how we've felt from the beginning of this," she says. After their son had been moved from St. Joseph's Hospital, the Flanderses say they found it nearly impossible to get information about the Sheriff's Office's plans for Jeremy. Their greatest fear: that Jeremy would be moved back into the tents.
They say they got no cooperation from the Sheriff's Office until they made one key phone call: to U.S. Attorney Janet Napolitano, who is overseeing a Department of Justice investigation into allegations that inmates in Arpaio's jails are being abused, that the abuse is covered up and that inmates are denied access to lawyers and medical care.
Once the U.S. Attorney's Office called the Sheriff's Office, Judy Flanders says, sheriff's employees suddenly became helpful. She says Deputy Chief Larry Wendt, who oversees jail operations, sent a message through a subordinate that he'd personally see to it that Jeremy wasn't moved back into the tents.
Despite the nearly fatal beating of Jeremy Flanders, the Sheriff's Office denies that there's a problem with security at Tent City. Lieutenant Campbell acknowledges that Jeremy Flanders was attacked by fellow inmates and suffered brain swelling, but he says that most of the damage occurred when Flanders was dropped by the inmate carrying him away from the beating. (Dr. Casano says that when Flanders first arrived at St. Joseph's, the Sheriff's Office told doctors that Flanders had fallen out of his bunk bed.)
As to the reason guards were unaware such an attack was occurring, Sergeant John Kleinheinz, another public information officer, says that the attack occurred near the time of a shift change at six o'clock, which could explain why guards were inattentive. And as for the delay in notifying Flanders' parents, Kleinheinz says that notification of parents is not something they immediately do when the inmate is an adult.
In what may be a first, Sheriff Joe Arpaio turned down repeated requests for an interview.
Judy and Tom Flanders, meanwhile, have retained attorney Kevin Van Norman, who is considering filing a negligence lawsuit on Jeremy's behalf. Van Norman says the extent of injuries make him believe that some kind of weapon was used. Van Norman says he's heard Williams' story of the tent stake, and that he believes the county is responsible for keeping such implements out of the hands of inmates. He also believes that Tent City lacks adequate guards to assure the safety of inmates.
As to Campbell's assertion--that the majority of Flanders' injuries were caused when his friend dropped him--Van Norman says: "If you saw what he looked like, you'd realize that a drop on the head couldn't have done that. His head was swelled up three times its normal size, there was a gash that took 14 or 15 stitches to close up, and he was in a coma."
The Flanderses have been told that their son's recovery is going well. But on Monday, May 20, when Judy Flanders saw her son in Madison Street Jail, she was shocked by how he looked ten days after the attack: "Jeremy's head looked different. It looks terrible; it looks like it has a dent. He has blurred, double vision. . . . I'm really concerned with his head. They've beaten him not only nearly to death, they've beaten the spark out of him."
Judy Flanders says she understands that the public wants someone like her son to pay for committing crimes.
"What we're against," she says, "is security being so bad in the tents. These boys shouldn't pay with their lives.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
- Stephen Colbert's Audience Boos U.S. Senator John McCain
Tue., Oct. 13, 7:00pm
Wed., Oct. 14, 3:00pm
Thu., Oct. 15, 7:00pm
Thu., Oct. 15, 7:00pm
- ACLU Vows to Appeal SB 1070 Ruling That Allows Cops to Investigate Suspects'...
- Loop 101 Shooting Incident Not Related to I-10 Shootings, DPS Says