Feathered Bastard

Marty Atencio Dead, Blood Tests Show Him Free of Illicit Drugs, Lawyer Says

Yesterday, the family of Ernest "Marty" Atencio, who was brutally Tased in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Fourth Avenue Jail last week, removed their loved one from life support. 

According to the family's attorney, Mike Manning, Atencio died Tuesday afternoon. Plans for services have not yet been made.

Atencio, 44, was found unresponsive in a jail cell at Fourth Avenue on Friday morning, following an altercation with detention officers that involved Tasing. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, where he was kept alive on life-support machines.

A Peoria resident, Atencio had been arrested by Phoenix cops that Thursday on assault charges after exhibiting bizarre behavior, such as kicking an apartment door and chasing an automobile. 

The family has suggested that Atencio was bipolar and was off his meds at the time of his arrest.

Atencio's brother, Mike, speaking on behalf of the family last week, told New Times that the MCSO had "murdered" his sibling, an Army vet whom he called "the most patriotic guy on the planet."

He described what the MCSO did regarding Atencio as a "ploy" so the Sheriff's Office could claim Atencio had not died on their watch. 

Manning, who has successfully sued the MCSO on several occasions over wrongful deaths in MCSO facilities, agreed with his client.

"[Atencio] died in the jail," Manning explained. "But the MCSO always tries to revive [dead prisoners] and get them out of the jail so they don't have to report it as an `in-custody death.'"

Regarding rumors that Atencio may have been on illicit drugs and that this may have helped cause a cardiac arrest after he was Tased, St. Joe's did three blood tests for drugs and alcohol that came back negative, according to Manning.

Manning also said that autopsies will be performed both by the county Medical Examiner and by a coroner working for the family.

Sources have stated that doctors at St. Joe's believe Atencio may have been Tased as many as six times while in MCSO custody.

As for jailhouse videotape of the incident, Manning said he has asked MCSO for it and Arpaio's people are stalling 

Indeed, in a statement released recently, the Phoenix Police Department, also investigating the death, said MCSO had not yet provided them with video of the altercation.

"It's a bad sign if they don't release the video," Manning noted. "We've caught the MCSO in past cases destroying or degrading [such] video. By the time they gave it to us, it looked like you were watching it through a Minnesota blizzard."

Manning observed, sharply, that for the nearly 20 years the sheriff' has been in office, Arpaio has bragged about wanting his jails to be "bad" and has encouraged a "culture of cruelty" to make sure this is so.

"In all of the five death cases I've handled," said Manning, "no detention officer has ever been investigated or disciplined by the MCSO. But all [of the detention officers involved] have received promotions after the deaths."

Much has been made of Atencio's being a Latino a U.S. citizen in the wake of the U.S. Department of Justice's report condemning the systematic, discriminatory treatment of Latinos by the MCSO in the jails and out of them.

And I would not dispute that the grotesque bigotry toward Latinos Arpaio has encouraged in his own ranks may have played a role in Atencio's demise.

But it's worth noting that Arpaio's culture of cruelty goes back even further than his agency's documented animus toward Hispanics, which over the last five or six years has added yet another layer to his illegal, unconstitutional policies. 

Sadly, Marty Atencio is one more in a long line of those killed or maimed by those inhumane policies. See this story, too.

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

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