Jailhouse Goons Make Fun Of and Kill a Mentally Ill Inmate

Page 2 of 3

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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons