Jailhouse Goons Make Fun Of and Kill a Mentally Ill Inmate | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

Jailhouse Goons Make Fun Of and Kill a Mentally Ill Inmate

It takes a twisted individual to delight in the sufferings of the mentally ill. A special type of sick, sadistic bully. The kind employed in spades by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. The December 16 killing of Army veteran Marty Atencio is the latest example of the above, one of...
Share this:

It takes a twisted individual to delight in the sufferings of the mentally ill. A special type of sick, sadistic bully. The kind employed in spades by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

The December 16 killing of Army veteran Marty Atencio is the latest example of the above, one of the most recent in a string of corpses that punctuates the timeline of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's nearly 20-year career as this county's top lawman.

As reported last week in my Feathered Bastard blog, the Atencio family's attorney, Mike Manning, has filed notices of claim, totaling $20 million, with both the city of Phoenix and Maricopa County in Atencio's brutal demise at the hands of Phoenix cops and MCSO detention officers working in the Fourth Avenue Jail.

Since the 44-year-old's death occurred just hours after the U.S. Department of Justice issued its scathing report on the MCSO's pattern of discriminatory policing, racial profiling, and abuse of Latinos in Joe's gulags, much has been revealed about the circumstances surrounding the Atencio homicide.

The county medical examiner's autopsy noted Atencio's history of mental illness and hospitalization for psychosis.

Toxicology results from specimens, including those taken at St. Joseph's Hospital hours after Atencio's arrest earlier that day, showed no illicit drugs in Atencio's system.

Phoenix Police Department reports reveal that Atencio generally was passive and compliant during the two encounters with Phoenix cops that culminated in his arrest on December 15.

Indeed, Atencio "showed no signs of being a danger to himself or others," according to Phoenix Officer Sarah Roberts.

Rather, Atencio "simply appeared to be not medicated and engaged in very random conversation," Roberts said.

Atencio was arrested in West Phoenix for scaring a resident, Cathy Boyd, after kicking the apartment door of her neighbor.

Manning quotes from Boyd's affidavit recounting details of the incident:

"Marty did not physically threaten me at any time . . . I knew there was something wrong with him, and I just wanted him to . . . get some help."

Apparently, Atencio was treated well until he was taken to Arpaio's infamous jail, where cruelty is king and an idiotic environment pervades.

The most damning evidence of Atencio's mistreatment comes from interviews with detention officers and Phoenix cops carried out within days, sometimes within hours, of Atencio's beat-down and Tasing, referred to euphemistically by the Medical Examiner's Office as a "law enforcement subdual."

The interviews were done by MCSO detectives. Manning's law office obtained them through a public-records request.

Apparently, Atencio's mind at the time was like that of a child's. Disoriented, spouting nonsensical comments, he often referred to himself in the third person as "Tony" and seemed to be mimicking Robin Williams' character in Good Morning, Vietnam.

Some detention officers and cops thought Atencio was on drugs, claiming that he told someone during his stay in Fourth Avenue that he had smoked meth earlier in the day.

But toxicology reports don't lie. Cops and detention officers are another story. Soon after Atencio was taken, brain dead, to St. Joe's, they were making assumptions to rationalize their behavior.

Thing is, the breakdown in law enforcement discipline — including a Phoenix cop's pushing Atencio with his cuffed hands bent awkwardly and painfully — cannot be rationalized.

It also included MCSO detention officers mocking and humiliating Atencio as they took his mug shot.

"They encouraged him to make funny faces and . . . kept saying, 'Let's make this one the Mug Shot of the Week,'" one witness said.

Another witness noted that when they took Atencio's picture, "It was a big joke" and "they all stood around and laughed about it."

This hilarity turned deadly once Atencio was surrounded by officers demanding that he remove his shoes. When in Phoenix custody, cops had gotten Atencio to take off his shoes by just being patient and repeating their request. Here, Phoenix police and MCSO guards were far from patient.

Two Phoenix police officers who were there to help process detainees initiated what Manning calls a "jailers' riot," even though Atencio was standing before them, arms crossed, presenting no threat.

The notice of claim identifies the Phoenix cops as Patrick Hanlon and Nicholas French.

Several MCSO gendarmes joined the fray, in what one onlooker called "a big ol' dog pile." Though Atencio was smothered by officers, MCSO Sergeant Jason Weiers Tased Atencio several times.

Anthony Hatton, a detention officer who since has left the MCSO, punched Atencio in the face three times. Hatton claimed the strikes were necessary, but a couple of his fellow guards did not agree.

"He shouldn't have been punching him," detention Officer Sergio Salinas told investigators. "It was excessive."

Later, after Atencio was hauled to a "safe cell," where he would be stripped of clothing and left to die, Hatton continued the abuse, kneeing Atencio as guards held him down.

Detention officer Blas Gabrial told detectives that he yelled Hatton's name upon seeing the force used on Atencio. When asked why, he said, "Because I didn't think it was necessary."

While Atencio was lying motionless and naked in the safe cell, where he would breathe his last breath without life support, what were many of these men and women of law enforcement doing?

Laughing, joking, and cutting up like teenagers. Video shows two women — one in uniform — dancing and bumping butts. Hatton laughs and demonstrates what looks like a fighting move to other officers. A Phoenix cop eats an orange and grins.

Minutes later, they're all gathering around the door, precious seconds slipping away as they take their time getting it open.

"[Prisoners] play that game a lot," Weiers told an investigator, referring to Atencio's stillness. "You know, playing like they're dead."

Atencio wasn't playing. He already was gone. But CPR was performed, and he was rushed to St. Joe's. On December 20, his family removed him from life support.

If you saw grown men and women abusing a mentally ill or disabled person, would you do something about it?

Likely so. Which is why, ultimately, I blame the voters of Maricopa County for what happened to Atencio.

They've been told about a lot of such brutality in Arpaio's jails over the years and, so far, have looked the other way.

What is it they used to say of dime-store novellas? Cherchez la femme, or "look for the woman."

That's the phrase that comes to mind when reading the $10 million notice of claim filed with Attorney General Tom Horne's office by Meg Hinchey, a veteran investigator there.

Hinchey claims she came across evidence of possibly illegal campaign-finance shenanigans "implicating Horne" after she was assigned by him to conduct a "confidential internal investigation" last July.

Since then, she's turned over the allegations to the FBI. The agency has been investigating, and it has involved the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which apparently had — and may still have — a grand jury probe ongoing.

The alleged shenanigans involve an independent-expenditure committee called Business Leaders for Arizona, which was run by Horne loyalist Kathleen Winn, now Horne's outreach coordinator.

Winn held an unpaid position in Horne's GOP primary campaign against now-disgraced and disbarred Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas.

She was instrumental in Horne's slim primary win and, thereafter, left the campaign to run her existing independent-expenditure committee, raising beaucoup bucks from backers and an in-law of Horne's to run attack ads against Horne's Democratic foil, Felecia Rotellini.

Horne eked past Rotellini in the general election, which would be fair, unless there was coordination between the Horne campaign and the Winn effort. If so, there are the niceties of campaign-finance laws, which almost no one seems to care about in this state.

More serious are the allegations that the state's top law enforcement officer engaged in retaliation against Hinchey and even suggested destroying or hiding evidence, specifically files produced by Hinchey.

As part of the fallout, the chief of Horne's criminal division, former Judge Jim Keppel, amscrayed from his post and publicly backed Hinchey's claims, at least as they relate to him.

Keppel and Hinchey have good reputations; Horne not so much. It remains to be seen if Horne's anticipated 2014 gubernatorial bid is as dead as Paul Babeu's congressional career, or if worse is on the way. Like, indictments.

I'm not going to turn blue in the face waiting for the Federal Bureau of Incompetence to act, seeing how it did such a terrible job with its supposed four-year probe of J.T. Ready, the late baby-killing, grenade-hoarding neo-Nazi.

Not to mention the FBI's lame investigation into Joe Arpaio on allegations of abuse of power, which has produced zilch in about the same time period.

And it sure would surprise me if current County Attorney Bill Montgomery were to seek an indictment of a fellow Republican during an election year.

But to bring things back around to a certain French maxim, it amuses me no end that Horne instigated Hinchey's "confidential internal investigation" because he wanted to plug a leak, from a mole who purportedly was talking to me about Horne's goombah, Carmen Chenal. You remember her: She ended up scoring a desk in the criminal division under Keppel, despite her previous State Bar suspension.

I wrote about it in a July 14, 2011, column. But because Horne believed my public-records requests preceding the article showed that there was a mole on his premises, he ordered Hinchey to do her best Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy routine to root the rotter out.

Blame fell on Winn, mainly because she and I had talked on and off during the primary and after. And I guess my name in her phone somewhere was enough to convince Hinchey that she was my source.

Though I've been aware for a while of Horne's siccing Hinchey on Winn, what I could not reveal until now — after the Arizona Republic mentioned that probe in its article on the Hinchey situation — is that there was no mole for my July 14 article.

All the information on Carmen Chenal that I obtained was from public records. There was no Benedict Arnold whispering in my ear. I didn't need one. Both Horne and Chenal have built up armies of haters over the years, and there are many outside the AG's Office willing to gab on background.

Why was Horne so worried about the Chenal matter that he ordered an internal investigation into a mere press leak?

I can only disclose that Horne asked to meet me for an off-the-record interview after the Chenal story ran. I can't reveal what we discussed.

Post-Watergate, they say, it's the coverup that gets politicians in trouble. Too early to tell whether this will be the case here. Though, if it is, Horne can only point his index finger at himself.

Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.