The Lumley Vampire, the underground newsletter purportedly run by current and former Arizona Department of Corrections employees, knows who killed 48-year-old Marcia Powell. That's the woman who recently died after at least four hours baking outside in the Arizona sun, while confined to a wire cage at Perryville Prison in Goodyear.
More specifically, the Lumley Vampire knows who gave the order to pull the plug on Powell's life-support after she was taken to West Valley Hospital: Interim ADC Director Charles Ryan.
That Ryan made this call is an inconvenient fact that many of the news articles and columns covering Powell's demise have avoided. Indeed, ADC's own press release on the event obfuscates this fact. It notes that while "transferring Powell to a detention unit, she was placed in an outside, uncovered, chain-link holding cell at 11 a.m. Tuesday." The statement goes on to relate that Powell collapsed at 2:40 p.m., and was taken to the hospital at 3:12 p.m.
"She was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m. Wednesday," says the press release. But in a letter the Lumley Vampire has posted on its front page, an anonymous, retired corrections officer notes the reality of the situation.
"Marcia Powell was alive when she left Perryville Prison for the last time," observes the retired officer. "She died when Vader pulled her plug at the hospital."
"Vader," as in "Darth Vader," is what Ryan is commonly called by commenters on the Vampire. That handle goes back to the days when Ryan was deputy to ADC Director Terry Stewart, who was known as "The Emperor" during his reign from December 1995 to November 2002.
Ryan was named interim director of the ADC on January 30 by Governor Jan Brewer. This was after ADC Director Dora Schriro resigned her post to join her old boss, Homeland Security czar and ex-Governor Janet Napolitano, in D.C.
According to Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman, Ryan is still "interim director," though Ryan lists himself as the "director" on the ADC's Web site. Senseman explained via e-mail that Ryan would have to be okayed by the state Senate, assuming the governor submits his name for confirmation.
Perhaps Ryan's desire to be confirmed in his position explains the relative swiftness in which he has thrown underlings to the wolves. Ryan announced to the press that a "criminal investigation" is under way into the incident, and that three ADC employees, including a deputy warden, a captain, and a lieutenant have been suspended pending the outcome.
"The death of Marcia Powell is a tragedy and a failure," said Ryan in the department's press release. "The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether there was negligence and to remedy our failures."
Ryan then expressed "condolences to Ms. Powell's family and loved ones." But where was the next of kin when Ryan gave the order to suspend life support? And how hard did Ryan try to locate that next of kin, when Powell's plug was pulled hours after she had been admitted to the hospital?
A spokesman for ADC's media relations office acknowledged that Ryan made the decision to suspend Powell's life support, and promised to get back to me with details as to why. As this column went to press, I had not received that follow-up call.
Powell, who had a history of mental illness and drug dependency, was serving a 27-month stint for prostitution when she died. Although many have noted that Valley dog deaths often receive more public concern and media scrutiny than the deaths of prison inmates such as Powell, I can report that more than one individual is looking to take custody of Powell's remains for a memorial service of some kind. These include Phoenix criminal defense advocate Jameson Johnson, attorney and prison reform advocate Donna Hamm, and members of a local Quaker church.
(The county medical examiner has performed an autopsy but has yet to issue a report on Powell's death.)
Hopefully, Powell will find the repose she did not find in life. But in the wake of her death, there needs to be an investigation into Ryan's actions as well as those lower on the prison staff food chain. Already, as I detailed in a column item a couple of months back, Ryan comes to his interim post with a tremendous amount of baggage.
Ryan's own bio on the ADC Web site touts that he was "assistant program manager for the Department of Justice overseeing the Iraqi Prison System for almost four years." Ryan was contracted by the DOJ to help rebuild Iraqi prisons, one of those being the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, the subject of an embarrassing scandal involving the torture and humiliation of prisoners that was revealed by the New Yorker magazine and 60 Minutes in 2004.
In response to questions raised about those contracted by the DOJ to help with Iraqi prisons, the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General investigated how Ryan and others, such as Ryan's former superior and ADC director Terry Stewart, were hired. The OIG reported that Ryan and other contractors said they did not have access to the part of the prison controlled by the U.S. military. Ryan and two other contractors "denied witnessing any acts of abuse at Abu Ghraib and said they were unaware of the abuse until it became public."
Ultimately, Inspector General Glenn Fine maintained, "The OIG's review uncovered no connection between the [contractors] and the abuses at Abu Ghraib."
Still, Ryan's link to Abu Ghraib leaves an unsavory aftertaste, even if he was not implicated in any wrongdoing. It's not the only disturbing element in Ryan's past. In an academic article penned by writer Joan Dayan for the collection History, Memory and the Law, Ryan waxed poetic about the prison industry's mastering what he referred to as "chain gang technology."
At the time of Ryan's appointment, Donna Hamm, of Arizona's Middle Ground Prison Reform, referred to Ryan as "a very hard-line cop that's not necessarily very well-versed in corrections, human corrections." Hamm recently wrote Governor Brewer requesting that Brewer "intervene in this matter at once" and not allow Ryan and the ADC to conduct its own investigation Powell's death.
Hamm has informed me that she has since spoken to Ryan, and that he assured her the ADC had no record of next of kin, and "that the doctors were consistent in their belief that Ms. Powell could not recover brain activity." However, Hamm still has concerns about Powell's death.
My question is, given Ryan's record, his link to Abu Ghraib, his comments on chain gangs, and now Powell's death on his consent, should he ever get to be more than interim director of the department he already thinks he's director of?
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is fond of telling members of the Fourth Estate that neither he nor his brown-shirted minions racially profile anyone. This, despite the facts that the Department of Justice is all over him like a sweaty polo shirt and the ACLU is suing him regarding just this very matter.
At the mere mention of it, Arpaio practically jumps up and down like a little boy whose mommy has deprived him of a pack of Jolly Ranchers.
His deputy dawgs are even worse than he is at refuting the charge of racial profiling. Anyone remember MCSO Sergeant Brett Palmer in April telling the sheriff's critics to "Shut up!" during a press conference on the subject?
"Any insinuation of racial profiling against any deputy sheriff of this office," Palmer said at a media event supposedly staged by deputies without any help from Arpaio's massive PR machine, "I take that personally as an insult, and that pisses me off."
Interestingly, Palmer was present during a recent drop-house raid in central Phoenix that netted 26 people, so he can take it as personally as he wants. Because when he and his fellow goons were zip-tying those in the drop house, they also zip-tied and detained (for more than an hour) 12-year-old Fili Gaucin, an American citizen, and his dad, also named Fili Gaucin, a permanent resident. They both live in the home adjacent to the drop house.
Essentially, the property is a duplex, with separate tenants and separate entranceways. The Gaucin family has lived there for about a year. Fili's mom, Cecilia, is an American citizen, too, born and raised in Phoenix. She works at Bose Corporation during the day. Her husband works at night as a singer in a Latin band. He was home cooking pork chops when the deputies knocked on the door around 12:30 p.m.
The elder Gaucin let the deputies in to search the house. After going through all the rooms, they told him to come outside and asked whether he knew what was going on. Like most people who live near drop houses, he had no idea what was occurring next door. But that didn't matter to the MCSO. Even though Papa Gaucin had his green card on him, the MCSO zip-tied his hands behind his back and made him sit on the ground with suspects the deputies were removing from the drop house.
With one legal resident in custody, the MCSO decided to go for an American citizen, the junior Gaucin, who had been watching TV when the MCSO searched the home earlier and found nothing.
They zip-tied the boy's hands behind his back, and made him sit next to his father. Fili Junior says that's when he got scared. He said there were men in body armor, with high-powered rifles and even something he and his dad identified as a bazooka.
"I was curious," said Fili. "Was there gonna be a gunfight or something? What were they trying to do, [start] WWIII?"
Papa Gaucin said he was worried about his son having to see the MCSO raid, and he felt bad that he could not prevent his son from being zip-tied.
After an hour on the ground in restraints, the MCSO finally cut them loose without explanation. Before that happened, a worried and angry Cecilia Gaucin arrived home and began haranguing the deputies about her son and husband.
"I told them, 'Why don't you look at his green card? My son was born here. He doesn't even know any Spanish,'" she said.
The Gaucins feel that things would have been different had they not been Hispanic. And I have to agree. I can understand questioning someone about what's going on with their neighbors, but the Gaucins aren't the landlords. They rent. They're a regular working-class family. And if they'd been Anglo, there's not a doubt in my mind that the MCSO would not have detained and zip-tied them.
To be sure, the Gaucins' experience isn't the only example of the MCSO's racial profiling ways, just the most recent. Essentially, the MCSO's M.O. is to arrest anyone with brown skin and ask questions later.
The same thing happened to American citizen Julio Mora, when he and his permanent-resident dad were zip-tied and held for three hours during the MCSO's February raid on HMI Landscaping in Phoenix. Mora, 19, was taking his dad to work when he and his father were stopped and wrongfully arrested. Even though Mora's father was 66 years old and diabetic, the deputies would not let him relieve himself. He was eventually allowed to urinate next to a nearby vehicle.
Mora testified about the incident at the House Judiciary Committee hearing in April. Stories like his and Fili Gaucin's are repeated almost daily. That's your MCSO at work.
For those who argue that such detainment or arrest is no big deal, I suggest a little experiment: Zip-tie Sheriff Joe's hands and those of his lapdog Brett Palmer behind their backs, sit them on the ground and ignore them for one to three hours. At least these two ofays with badges will have the satisfaction of knowing they weren't racially profiled.
Recently, Sheriff Joe declared the jail lockdowns caused by massive hunger strikes ongoing in his vast incarceration complex to be over. The MCSO issued a press release on the matter, stating that, "Effective today, May 22, 2009, the Maricopa County jails that have been on indefinite lockdown [sic] will be lifted by Sheriff Arpaio."
Though reading MCSO press releases is a little like reading between the lines of Pravda back in the day, this one admits Arpaio's putting an end to the lockdown even though the hunger strike is not over.
"During the past week [the] number of inmates refusing to eat ranged from 1,800 to just a handful last night," notes the statement, which quotes Joe as promising, "If the hunger strike comes back and the threats resume, the lockdown will be re-instituted."
What exactly is a "handful" to the MCSO? Of 1,800 men, would that mean 50, 100, 200? Whatever it is, Arpaio seems to recognize that a handful could multiply quickly in the wake of this announcement.
Yet Arpaio promised the Arizona Republic earlier in the week, "[The] lockdown will continue until they start eating again." Maybe the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in the universe meant to say, "until they, er, mostly start eating again."
The press release ends in typical Arpaio bluster, with a swipe at the ACLU's recent denunciation of the lockdown as a violation of prisoners' First Amendment rights
"In case people don't know, I run the jails, not the inmates or my critics," harrumphs Arpaio
"If you have to state publicly that you're in charge, that means you're not in charge," chuckled Phoenix civil rights activist Salvador Reza of the group Puente, after he was read the release. Reza said he and his colleagues organized seven candlelight vigils in support of the strike, beginning the first week in May, when they began to hear news of the fasting from relatives of prisoners.
The vigils have mostly taken place outside Joe's jails, but recently, one was held at the Macehualli Day Labor Center, near 25th Street and Bell Road. Reza said 40 families came forward to tell how they'd not been able to check on their loved ones via phone or visits.
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Asked whether he thought the hunger strike was losing steam, Reza said it was too soon to tell and suggested the inmates might next boycott the sheriff's canteen system, which sells candy bars, potato chips, and other items to prisoners at inflated prices, with money deducted from prisoners' jail accounts.
"Arpaio hasn't changed anything," observed Reza. "And unless Arpaio changes the way he treats human beings, he'll probably get more resistance."
Reza said he was planning another vigil, with the time and location to be announced.
"Never in my life have I ever heard of a peaceful action of this size inside of a jail," Reza noted, adding, "I guess Joe can't scare all of the people all of the time."