Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio's Victim Marty Atencio Killed by "Law Enforcement Subdual," Among Other Factors, Says Medical Examiner (w/Update)

NB: Please see my update at the end of this blog item, with links to the full autopsy and toxicology reports.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office has issued a determination as to the cause of death for Marty Atencio, the Army vet brutally beaten and Tased in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's infamous Fourth Avenue Jail on December 15, then shipped off brain dead to Saint Joseph's Hospital, where his family ultimately removed him from life support.

The terse statement reads, in part:


The quote above is as it appears in the MEO's one page letter, which you can review, here

I obtained this copy from the Atencio family's attorney Mike Manning, who says the family soon will file a notice of claim against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and the Phoenix Police Department, as officers from both departments were involved in Atencio's in-custody beat-down.

Asked for a response to the medical examiner's statement, Manning was appropriately outraged. 

"This report," he wrote me via e-mail, "coupled with the video of Marty's torturous death and the witnesses who confirm that the MCSO [detention officers] knew Marty was mentally ill and, for sport and amusement, teased him and made fun of him makes this tragedy such a gruesome confirmation of that culture of cruelty that Arpaio has created in our jails."

He added, "The fact that they attacked this sick and vulnerable man for sport and so gratuitously, would embarrass Third World jailers."

Cari Gerchick, a spokeswoman for Maricopa County, told me that the full medical examiner's autopsy is "probably" with the county attorney's office pending review.

"That's a normal step in a case where a potential crime has occurred," she explained.

The county attorney's office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the full autopsy.

The Atencio family has stated that Marty was bipolar, and acted oddly when he was off his meds, as he apparently he was on December 15 of last year, when he twice encountered Phoenix police officers, while wandering around the area of 28th Drive and Peoria Avenue.

In the police report of the initial encounter, Atencio complies with an officer's request that he leave a 7-11 parking lot.

"[Atencio] showed no signs of being a danger to himself or others," the report notes. "He simply appeared to be not medicated and engaged in very random conversation. He was not violent at all toward any officer or civilian present. Atencio stated that he lived down the street and as we had no crime he was instructed to return to his home."

Later that same evening, Phoenix police responded to another complaint involving Atencio, which led to his arrest. A woman alleged Atencio had walked toward her "in an aggressive manner, coming within an inch of her and yelling at her."

Afraid of a physical confrontation, the woman phoned the police. The cops again described the 44 year-old Atencio as compliant.

"The victim stated that Atencio was yelling," the report states. "But she was scared and could not provide...any quotes other than she remembered him asking for a cigarette. The victim had never seen or met Atencio before."

Told that he was being placed under arrest, Atencio did not resist, according to the report, which states, "He just asked that someone hold his phone that was still in his hand."

Eventually, Atencio was taken to the MCSO's Fourth Avenue Jail, where video shows him being non-violent and generally passive.

Nevertheless, he was jumped by eight or nine uniformed personnel, including Phoenix police, MCSO deputies and detention personnel, with more joining in. 

After being Tased multiple times, Atencio was taken to an ironically-named "safe cell" where he was stripped and left naked and motionless. 

Marty Atencio likely breathed his last breath on his own in that cell. Uniformed personnel later returned to perform CPR, and Atencio was shipped off to Saint Joseph's Hospital, where he was kept alive on life support for a few days longer. 

When life support was removed, Atencio died on December 20. 

On January 4, he was laid to rest with full military honors at National Memorial Cemetery in Phoenix.

UPDATE 6/1/12: The medical examiner's autopsy and toxicology reports on Marty Atencio were released to the family yesterday. The autopsy report you can read, here; the toxicology report, here.

It's notable that Atencio had no illicit drugs in his system. However, he did have a number of cracked ribs, due to the "law enforcement subdual" (aka, a police riot), which included "an apparent carotid chokehold" the repeated use of a Taser, and a number of cops and deputies piling on Atencio like some cartoon version of a rugby match.

Why was this necessary? The answer is, it wasn't. These MCSO deputies and Phoenix Police Department officers effectively rendered a death sentence on a mentally ill Army vet who had been arrested because he scared a woman by yelling at her and coming too close to her. 

According to the Phoenix PD report, Atencio never touched the lady. And the Phoenix PD pointed out at length in its report that Atencio was passive during his interactions with Phoenix cops.

Obviously, Atencio had severe mental problems, was not taking all of his meds (though he did test positive for Celexa), and had been wandering the streets for a while. Imagine a loved one of your own in a similar situation. Would you want them treated this way?

Marty Atencio did not have to die. His family is pretty much guaranteed a large settlement considering the circumstances, but that will not bring Atencio back. One wonders if the county attorney's office will hold any of these law enforcement officers responsible for Atencio's death. 

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