Local Media Outlets Regurgitate Arpaio's Press Releases

Like a Roman emperor of old, Sheriff Joe knows how to keep the mob entertained, with the help of his echo chamber — the local Fourth Estate — which too often takes its cues from Arpaio's PR staff, lapping up whatever drivel that's dis-engorged, then spewing it forth for the evening news.

On Friday, MCSO flacks issued a press release announcing that the 22nd anniversary of Arpaio's Tent City was  taking place.

Um, so what? Since when is the 22nd birthday of anything news? Joe likely has corns that are at least 22 years old. Perhaps MCSO's PR staff could issue a press release next time one of them has a natal anniversary?

I don't want to give 'em any ideas, because knowing the local press corps, there are some who might pick up such a story word for word.

Okay, maybe not verbatim. They might bother to re-write it a bit, as did ABC 15 news with a certain 22nd anniversary.

Take ABC 15's opening paragraph, a mere echo of the MCSO's press statement:
MARICOPA COUNTY, AZ - In spite of demanding protests from activists calling for the closure of Tent City Jail, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is moving forward with plans to celebrate the its 22nd anniversary Monday.
Compare this to the MCSO's opener:

(Maricopa County, AZ) Confronted with increasingly insistent demands from activists calling for the immediate closure of Tent City Jail, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is moving ahead with plans to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of his canvas incarceration compound on August 3, 2015 at high noon.
Granted, ABC 15 offers a briefer version of the MCSO story, but all the basic elements are the same, including the mention of a recent Netroots Nation protest, which supposedly helps make this double-deuce of a b-day relevant.

Here's the MCSO's version, the second graph of the release:
This despite that recently, on July 17th, hundreds of people from around the nation marched to the Sheriff’s downtown headquarters, led by a large progressive organization called Netroots Nation displaying numerous anti-Arpaio signs and forcing a lockdown of the Sheriff’s downtown jails. Protestors publicly called for an end to Tent City –
calling it an “outdoor deathtrap” and “anti-human laboratory.”
And ABC 15's re-telling:
His decision to celebrate comes in wake of a protest led by progressive organization Netroots Nation on July 17. The protests caused a lockdown of the Sheriff's downtown jails and called Tent City an "outdoor deathtrap" and "anti-human laboratory."
MCSO also offers up a quote for use by the media:
Sheriff Arpaio has remained undeterred by the relentless criticism and by the demands to shut it down.

“If Tent City is as bad as critics and activists say, why have four U.S. presidential candidates visited the tents during campaign stops?” says Arpaio. “No presidential candidate would step foot in Tent City if it truly was the cruel and inhumane jail my critics claim it to be.”

In fact, since Arpaio opened Tent City on August 3, 1993, using donated Korean War tents, over one half million convicted inmates, both male and female, have served their sentences there with astonishingly few problems.
ABC 15 uses the quote, as well as other language from the passage. 

Am I picking on ABC 15 here?

After all, other media outlets rewrite press releases. And most of the outlets in this town play a little game with Arpaio, reporting the occasional critical story they cannot ignore, while at the same time regurgitating the bread and circuses the MCSO manufactures for them on an almost daily basis.

Since Arpaio took office in 1993, Maricopa County has paid out nearly $75 million to settle or satisfy judgments in lawsuits involving the MCSO's bad behavior, much of it in Arpaio's vast incarceration complex. (Note: This figure does not include legal fees, nor does it include costs of  the big civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio and a similar lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.)

The tents are dangerous and largely run by race-based prison gangs.

There have been a number of high-profile deaths and injuries that have cost the county dearly, such as that of Jeremy Flanders, who sued and won after an attack by fellow prisoners left him with permanent brain damage. That cost the county more than $600,000 in a civil judgment. 

The jury's decision was upheld on appeal. This passage from the Arizona Court of Appeals' decision should give you an inking of what Tent City is like:
Flanders was a trustee, whose duties included serving meals to other inmates. To gain trustee status and the opportunity for activity this status offered, he had to live in Tent City. The other option was “regular” jail, where inmates are locked down for twenty-three hours a day. Half Anglo and half Hispanic, Flanders was pressured to join competing jail gangs. Flanders instead chose to be “by himself.”

On May 10, 1996, Flanders had finished his trustee work, eaten dinner, and returned to his tent. He was alone and fell asleep in his bunk. During a shift change for jail guards, and apparently while he slept, Flanders was violently assaulted.

Flanders later could not remember what had happened to him and did not know why he had been assaulted. However, witnesses saw five or six individuals wearing hoods run into Flanders' tent. The group apparently pulled Flanders off his bunk, struck him with various objects, and kicked and jumped on him. No one could identify the attackers. Other inmates heard noises of the assault, including Flanders' moans and cries.

One witness saw an assailant use a tent spike to beat Flanders on the head, neck and shoulders. Tent spikes were made of steel rebar and were used to secure the tents to the ground.  Another witness heard a tent spike drop on the concrete floor of Flanders' tent during the assault.

The attack complete, another inmate entered the tent and found Flanders unconscious, gasping for air, and spewing blood out of his mouth, nose and ears. Flanders had been bloodied and beaten so badly that the other inmate initially did not recognize Flanders.

No jail guards had arrived, so the other inmate carried Flanders over his shoulders for almost 100 yards, across the yard and into the main building. Flanders was laid at the feet of several detention officers. His eyes were rolled back in his head; his body was bloody and his face was swollen.
If the other prisoners don't get ya, the guards might, as allegedly happened with Brian Crenshaw, a disabled man in Tent City doing a brief spell for shoplifting, when he was transferred to solitary. The MCSO said he fell off his 4' bunk, breaking his back and toes and leaving him with internal injuries that proved fatal. Crenshaw's lawyer blamed the d.o.'s. Result? A $2 million settlement.

I could go on and on, and certainly it's not just the tents, but all of Arpaio's jails. For example, in 2012, the family of diabetic mom Deborah Braillard settled for $3.25 million for a death brought on by the MCSO's denying her medication. 

In another jail death, Felix Torres got similar medical maltreatment and died as a result. This year, his family settled a wrongful death lawsuit for nearly $1 million

By all means, media outlets, report on Arpaio's ridiculous little birthday party for Tent City. He has one every year, and you always dutifully cover it.

But remember to include some info on what Arpaio's jails have cost us —  and on the lives cut short because of them.
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons