Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Victim Marty Atencio: Family Files Notices of Claim Totaling $20 Million in Wrongful Death Case

An obscene cross between a Three Stooges short and a snuff film. That's the gruesome scenario depicted by two notices of claim served on the City of Phoenix and Maricopa County totaling $20 million for the wrongful death of Army vet Marty Atencio.

The claims, submitted by Phoenix attorney Mike Manning on behalf of the Atencio family,  allege that Atencio, though obviously suffering from mental illness, was "mocked, beaten, electrocuted, stripped naked and killed," by Phoenix Police officers and Maricopa County detention officers in December of last year.

Raw video of what Manning calls a "jailers riot" was released previously by the MCSO. Culling info from this video as well as from public documents and recordings released by the MCSO, Manning details the excessive force and humiliation inflicted upon the 44 year-old during his brief stay in MCSO custody.

According to interviews done by MCSO detectives of the detention officers and Phoenix cops involved, Atencio was not violent when he was brought to Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Fourth Avenue Jail. This, after being arrested for yelling at a woman in West Phoenix on December 15.

Nevertheless, Atencio was manhandled and verbally abused throughout the booking process that night, according to Manning. 

The attorney writes that PPD officer Patrick Hanlon "painfully marched Marty" around, quoting a witness as stating PPD officers led Atencio "with his hands and arms bent in what looked to be a very painful position" toward a processing room where he was to be handed over to MCSO custody.

In that room, moments later, Atencio would be pounced upon by a pack of deputies and PPD officers.

After being brutalized, Tased repeatedly, and left naked in a so-called "safe cell," Atencio stopped breathing. CPR was administered, and Atencio was transported, brain dead, to St. Joseph's Hospital. His family ultimately removed him from life support days later.

What prompted this deadly outbreak of violence against a harmless mentally ill man? Seems Atencio would not take off his shoes fast enough for the officers. So they leapt upon him, in what one witness described as a "dog pile."

MCSO detention officer Anthony Hatton struck Atencio "with a closed fist, multiple times," while Atencio was down, smothered in cops. Atencio also was repeatedly Tased by MCSO Sergeant Jason Weiers.

"Marty was screaming in pain, in a deep voice," according to one witness. 

Another witness stated, "If they Tase him anymore, they are going to kill him." 

Atencio likely breathed his last breath on his own in "safe cell 4," where Hatton "struck Marty several times with his knee," as others held him down. Another detention officer present, Blas Gabriel, "yelled out" at Hatton to stop, because he "didn't think that was necessary."

After Atencio was left in the safe cell, cops, detention officers and other jail personnel danced, joked and laughed about what had just transpired. Video shows two female jail staffers as they "dance and bump their butts together," while "another female CHS worker as well as another [detention officer] indifferently watch their antics."

Hatton and Hanlon, as identified by the notices of claim, can be seen smiling and laughing in the video. Manning provides several screen shots from MCSO video in both documents.

(Note: PDFs of the notices of claim are available after the jump.)

Equally disgusting is the account of one witness, who tells how detention officers secured a now-infamous mug shot of Atencio making a weird face for the camera.

"While Marty was having his mug shot taken," said the witness. "The guards were taunting him, telling him to `turn left,' `turn right,'and making fun of Marty's inability to follow instructions. As the guards made fun of Marty, they encouraged him to make funny faces and the photographer, a female detention officer, kept saying `let's make this one the Mug Shot of the Week.' After they took his Mug Shot, the detention officers brought Marty back to the holding tank."

(You can read the notice of claim to the MCSO, here; and the notice of claim to the City of Phoenix, here.)

For those out there who will assert, despite evidence to the contrary, that Atencio somehow deserved his fate, keep in mind the testimony below of Cathy Boyd. It was because Atencio scared Boyd that he ended up being arrested by the Phoenix Police department:

"Marty did not physically threaten me at any time. He did not make comments that made me think he would harm me . . . . . I didn't want Marty to be arrested; he had not touched me, he wasn't verbally belligerent. I knew there was something wrong with him and I just wanted him to go to the psych ward, at 24th and Van Buren, to get some help, not necessarily go to jail because he had not done anything . . . .

"[The officer] was saying, `We can't take him downtown for 'this' because he didn't do 'that'" I understood the officer was looking for a reason to arrest Marty. All I wanted was take him downtown and get him some help. The officer said he was going to arrest Marty for verbal assault due to the fact Marty scared me. He asked if I was scared at any time. I said yes, when Marty's face was close to mine. My first thought was to push him away. However, I knew if I didn't instigate a physical altercation, I would be okay."

Previously-released Phoenix Police reports on Atencio's arrest, as well as accounts from staff at Fourth Avenue, make it plain that though Atencio was saying odd things and acting strangely, he did not deserve the treatment he received at the hands of MCSO and PPD officers.

I asked Manning about the contention of some interviewed by MCSO investigators that Atencio had at one point said he had smoked meth before being arrested.

"We are sure that Marty did not tell anyone at the jail that he had smoked meth that day," Manning explained. "His system was utterly free of illicit drugs and alcohol. MCSO frequently makes up justifications for their assaults on detainees."

Indeed, toxicology reports done by St. Joseph's Hospital with blood drawn from Atencio upon admission, and by the county medical examiner's office, back up Manning's assertion that Atencio had nothing illicit in his system.

Manning's notices of claim also blast the medical examiner's office for playing a "partisan role" in the investigation and for "stonewalling" the Atencio family's request for public records.

The veteran attorney is withering in his assessment of the medical examiner's conclusion that the manner of death in the Atencio case is "undetermined," when it in fact was, "so obviously a `homicide,' i.e., caused at the hands of other human beings."

In fact,  as Manning points out, it seems self-evident that Atencio's "lethal cardiac arrest," described by the county autopsy, was due to his treatment at the hands of his jailers.

Atencio was a veteran and came from a family of veterans. No amount of money will compensate the family for its loss. Though, given the facts in the case, a sizable award or settlement seems inevitable.

Will the electorate finally hold Arpaio responsible for a string of such unnecessary deaths over the years? Will the officers involved be held accountable for their deeds? Will County Attorney Bill Montgomery do his duty and seek indictments in the Atencio killing?

Sadly, I have to wonder if the answer to any of those questions will be, "Yes."

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons