Joe Arpaio's Victim Marty Atencio in MCSO's "Safe Cell": Mike Manning Comments

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Video of Atencio being stripped and left naked in a cell, taken from MCSO footage by Phoenix videographer Dennis Gilman. Note: Gilman obscured parts of Atencio's body to maintain the dignity of the victim. As with the first video, there is no sound.

Above is more disturbing raw footage culled from the eight hours of video the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office recently released of Army vet Ernest "Marty" Atencio in MCSO custody. 

The video shows several uniformed officers placing Atencio in an ironically named "safe cell" and stripping off his clothing. He's then left naked and motionless on the bare floor of the cell, as another MCSO officer trains what looks to be a Taser light on the defenseless inmate.

As this last officer exits, Atencio's stomach expands and contracts once. The Atencio family's attorney Mike Manning believes that this may have been Atencio's death sigh.

"That was probably his last breath," Manning told me this morning. "We'll see when we get the autopsy back. But there's a heave, and then he's motionless again forever."

Atencio was arrested by Phoenix police officers December 15 after exhibiting bizarre behavior, according to a Phoenix Police Department statement. The 44 year-old Peoria man was later taken to the MCSO's Fourth Avenue Jail to be booked for assault. 

After he was "discovered" unresponsive in his cell, Atencio was transported to Saint Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, where he was placed on life-support. Last Tuesday, the Atencio family made the decision to remove their brain-dead loved one from life-support. He died that same day.

Manning said the Atencio family has commissioned its own independent autopsy to be done on Atencio's corpse. He expected the county medical examiner's office to finish its examination of the body as early as today.

He described the family as "devastated" by the video of what was done to Atencio in custody, and stated that funeral arrangements had not yet been made.

Manning, a veteran of several successful lawsuits involving wrongful deaths in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails -- including such horrific cases as those of Scott Norberg, Deborah Braillard, Brian Crenshaw and Charles Agster, said he was surprised by what he saw in his review of the video.

"I was skeptical of [the MCSO's] initial press spin," Manning related. "You never know, particularly with a person who is [bipolar and] off his medications, but it is clear that Marty wasn't threatening anybody."

Indeed, in the first raw footage New Times posted last week, Atencio does not appear aggressive toward the several officers who confront him before he's taken to the ground -- hardly the "combative" individual the MCSO described in its press comments before the video's release.

"MCSO never accurately states the circumstances when they first come out with their spin," Manning observed. "This is right out of their Norberg-Agster-Crenshaw playbook. It's always that the inmate started a ruckus and was combative and superhuman in a drug-induced strength."

Still, the MCSO's falsehoods may have gained them a little traction with certain elements of the press. 

Even after the release of a video that does not back up the MCSO's claims, some media outlets persisted in depicting Atencio as having initiated a struggle with officers, though this is clearly not the case.

A careful review of what transpired on video shows a one-way street, with Atencio the victim of what Manning calls a "jailers' riot." 

Manning also observed that one bald MCSO officer appears to knee Atencio in the head more than once in the safe cell, as Atencio lies there helpless. Another officer in a cap taps the bald officer, as if to signal him to stop.

"In the safe cell, it looks like [Atencio] is kneed in the head," said Manning. "In addition to that, it looks like there's an officer placing his weight on Marty's back, which of course compromises severely a body's ability to breathe.

"We don't have the results back from the autopsy, but it won't surprise me if he died from respiratory arrest because of the weight placed on his back."

Though there is later footage (not seen in this segment) of uniformed personnel performing CPR on Atencio's body, this portion certainly lends credence to claims that Atencio died in Arpaio's jails and was shipped out to St. Joseph's Hospital so the MCSO did not have to report an "in-custody" death.

Manning pointed out the MCSO had encountered Atencio in the past after Atencio was arrested for relatively minor violations, and that Atencio's medical history -- including his mental issues -- was known to the MCSO, and neglected by the agency.

The Atencio family has revealed Atencio was bipolar and would have episodes involving encounters with law enforcement when he was not on medication. In a previous interview, Manning indicated that blood tests done after Atencio's hospitalization showed no alcohol or illicit drugs in his system.

But as Manning points out, even if Atencio was off his meds, the video does not indicate that he was a threat to anyone.

"He was passive," said Manning of Atencio in the footage. "Clearly confused, but he didn't swing his arms, didn't kick his legs or feet, didn't try to head-butt anybody, including fellow inmates or detention officers. He appeared throughout the entire episode to be non-threatening."

This was confirmed, Manning stated, by the fact that Atencio was uncuffed by the Phoenix police officers present, one of whom was the first to take Atencio down.

"Cops are trained to never uncuff somebody who is a potential threat to themselves or to the police," he said.

He also stated that he believed the MCSO violated its own rules of procedure, particularly those taught to all law enforcement officers in regard to the "use of force continuum," which dictates when certain levels of physical force are used. 

And Manning maintained that, according to the video, the Phoenix Police Department is "directly involved" in the incident with Atencio, as Phoenix police officers were the first "to use force against" Atencio after uncuffing him.

The decision to file a notice of claim -- a prelude to a lawsuit filed with the jurisdictions involved, such as the county or the city -- has not yet been made, Manning told me, but was "highly likely" given the video.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this segment of the video is reminiscent of footage from 2007 of another inmate, Juan Farias Mendoza, who perished in Arpaio's gulags, allegedly at the hands of his jailers.

2007 video of Juan Farias Mendoza, another of Joe Arpaio's many victims

This year, Mendoza's family settled with Maricopa County for $1 million. I post the Mendoza video here so that you can see for yourselves the obvious parallels.

UPDATE 12/28/11: For Atencio's obituary and funeral service schedule, please click, here.

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