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109 Degrees of Incarceration

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"If the trap is shut, there is virtually no fresh air that is being circulated," sheriff's detective A.M. Luna wrote in his investigative report. Smith told Luna that he believed Hawthorne was suffering from some sort of chest congestion, and on the 21st, he seemed to be worsening. "Smith told me he believed that the heat was getting to Hawthorne."

That night, Smith said that Hawthorne was coughing "real hard . . . was having a hard time breathing, and some sort of foam was coming from his mouth. Smith also noticed that Hawthorne had pus around his eyes and his face was extremely red."

Smith and neighboring inmates began clamoring for help.
Guards found Hawthorne unresponsive at 11:45 p.m. on August 21. Hawthorne was taken to Phoenix Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:55 a.m.

Dr. Philip Keen, the county's medical examiner, determined Hawthorne was killed by atherosclerotic coronary artery disease combined with acute hyperthermia. Keen, in his autopsy report, says Hawthorne's high body temperature was "unexplained."

Keen had apparently not been told that the air vent to Hawthorne's cell had been closed.

Detective Luna visited the jail cell to measure its temperature, but five hours had passed since Hawthorne and Smith had been taken out of it and the cell door was open, Luna wrote. Even so, a thermometer placed on Smith's bunk measured 94 degrees. What the room measured with the cell door closed and the two men in their bunks, Luna could apparently not estimate.

Wrote Luna: "Smith said that it gets hotter if the trap door to the cell is closed. In this case the trap door was closed ever since Hawthorne was transferred in. I asked Smith if the trap door is normally kept closed, he said that it is usually kept open but the Officers close it as a form of discipline."

Sheriff Arpaio takes advantage of a misconception common among the public: that jail and prison are synonymous. But as the county's jailer, Arpaio's job, with at least 70 percent of his inmates awaiting trial, is simply to house the accused until their cases can be adjudicated in court. Arpaio is, in other words, a caretaker. It is up to judges and juries to decide the fate of the men and women in Arpaio's jails.

Some will no doubt be glad to learn that a man such as Lance Hawthorne suffered an ignominious death in Arpaio's care. But the sheriff's failure to deliver Hawthorne to his day in court could be an expensive one for taxpayers.

And sheriff's employees tell New Times that the problems with heat in Madison Street Jail have not been fixed.

The warmest weather of 1999 struck in the middle of April. On the 19th, with temperatures nearing the century mark, the swamp coolers of the jail proved ineffective, and detention officers had to quell a near riot. Employees say that inmates refused to enter their cells on one of the jail's floors, and detention officers donned riot gear. "They eventually cut a deal with the inmates by agreeing to bring them ice water," says a sheriff's source.

Contact Tony Ortega at his online address: [email protected]

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega