Less than a month after the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Arizona Department of Corrections inmate Marcia Powell's May 20 human cage death an "accident," ADC honcho Charles Ryan has fired three employees, forced the resignations of two others, and disciplined 11 more. This according to an ADC news release issued today.
Specifically, the release states that Ryan "dismissed five employees, two of whom resigned in lieu of dismissal, demoted a captain to an officer and suspended another 10 employees" because of Powell's death from being left in a shadeless, waterless outdoor cage at Goodyear's Perryville Prison. Powell collapsed May 19 after at least four hours in the blazing Arizona sun. Ryan later made the decision to suspend her life support, even though Powell, 48, had been assigned a guardian by the court -- Maricopa County's Public Fiduciary.
None of the names of those fired and disciplined have been released. In addition to news of the firings, ADC also announced that it had "completed a criminal investigation into the matter," which had been reviewed by the Department of Public Safety, then submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office on August 20.
Ryan's quoted in the release as saying of those disciplined, "These supervisors and officers to varying degrees failed to properly perform their duties." Left unsaid is any mention of the fact that Ryan ordered Powell's plug pulled before consultation with her guardian. Ryan has stated that he did not know Powell had a guardian at the time.
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Should Ryan fall on his sword in this matter? After all, couldn't it be argued that Ryan failed to do his duty by not ensuring that Marcia Powell was treated safely and humanely during her 27-month stint in prison for prostitution?
Donna Hamm of the advocacy group Middle Ground Prison Reform said she wasn't ready to demand Ryan's resignation. Hamm said she first wanted to see the results of ADC's internal investigation, which is not yet public.
"The critical thing for us is whether there are going to be criminal charges brought," Hamm told me this evening. "Everything we know about this incident seems to point to the elements for negligent homicide. It's very hard to imagine how Michael Jackson's death is ruled a homicide and this one is ruled an accident. I don't really understand the difference, except in politics and coroners."
Powell's cremains were eventually turned over to Middle Ground after an investigation by the fidiciary's office could not locate next-of-kin willing to take custody of them. (Powell's adoptive mother is alive, but she told the fiduciary's office she did not wish to get involved.) Powell's cremains were committed June 28 at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix.