Public Pays in Jail Death

At least 19 jail inmates have died on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's watch. Others have been maimed. A man who is paralyzed below the waist was strapped into a medieval restraint chair so roughly that jailers broke his neck.

New Times has detailed many cases of abuse and neglect in Maricopa County jails by relying on documents produced by the sheriff's own investigators.

Yet Arpaio continues to insist that inmates are not abused or neglected; his most recent denial came last week after an Icelandic judge ruled that Arpaio's jails are inhumane.

While he gives denials to reporters, however, he's given something else to the mother of one victim of his jails:

Taxpayer cash.
After reviewing records obtained from the county's financial officers, New Times has learned that Maricopa County paid $50,000 to Betty Joan Holschlag in December.

Holschlag had sued Arpaio because her son Kevin hanged himself in Madison Street Jail in July 1994. Kevin Holschlag had been diagnosed as acutely suicidal and was put on a continuous watch.

However, the lawsuit alleged, the three detention officers assigned to monitor Kevin Holschlag admitted to Arpaio's investigators that they had left the inmate alone for some time because they became busy setting up and watching a videotape.

A videotape featuring Arpaio.
While his detention officers were watching the sheriff's latest television appearances (Arpaio continues to spend public money to collect the videos), Kevin Holschlag wrapped his bedsheet around his neck and hanged himself.

Other inmates' calls for help weren't heard.
Court documents show that in preparation for trial, Betty Holschlag's attorneys at Robbins, Shumway and Foreman compiled a list of more than 50 witnesses, including experts who would testify that Kevin Holschlag had not been supervised properly, and that care in Maricopa County's jails was "below acceptable medical standards."

Before that testimony could be heard, however, Betty Joan Holschlag and the county struck a deal.

As part of it, Holschlag and her attorneys agreed not to divulge the settlement's terms. They cited that agreement in turning down requests for interviews by New Times. However, a review of county financial records indicates that the county has paid Holschlag $50,000.

Meanwhile, Arpaio continues to tell the public that all complaints about his jails--even findings of fact by a federal investigation--are simply the fantasies of vengeful inmates.

Asked about Kevin Holschlag's suicide in 1995, Arpaio told the Phoenix Gazette that he had never produced promotional videotapes of himself for his staff to watch.

But in another lawsuit filed on behalf of an inmate whose arm was broken by jailers, attorney Joel Robbins recently produced a Sheriff's Office routing slip which shows that in 1994 jail employees were required to watch a tape of an Arpaio appearance on network television.

Kevin Holschlag was 34 when he died. When he was 18, his testimony helped put two burglars in prison. In the ensuing years, he developed a belief that the two burglars were plotting to kill him. Holschlag himself committed burglary before he was diagnosed in 1988 as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Six years later, federal authorities charged that Holschlag, as a felon, had illegally obtained a firearm and had submitted false information to do so. According to court documents, Holschlag's attorneys claimed that he purchased the gun to protect himself from the two men he believed were still after him.

While awaiting trial on those charges, Holschlag was incarcerated in Maricopa County Jail. Holschlag's sister, Teri Morgan, told the Gazette that she and Holschlag's public defender had asked that Holschlag be jailed before his trial because of his disease. Ironically, she said that the family believed putting him in jail would be the best way to prevent Holschlag from killing himself. Instead, Holschlag made numerous attempts on his life in jail before succeeding on July 19, 1994.

In one attempt, he threw himself down a stairwell; in another, he slashed his arms.

Morgan told the Gazette that the family only learned of those incidents after Holschlag's death.

"We had bought a short-sleeved polo shirt to wear for his burial," she told the paper. "And when we went to the wake, the cuts at both of his elbows were so big, so deep, we couldn't believe he didn't bleed to death."

In her lawsuit, Betty Joan Holschlag charged that the jail's medical and psychiatric staff ignored warnings from her son's public defender, Grant Bashore, that Kevin Holschlag was acutely suicidal. When he learned that his client had cut his arms, Bashore wrote a letter to Correctional Health Services, the county agency that provides medical services in the jails.

Court documents allege that a doctor responded to the letter with a cryptic phone message: "Received your letter--has no clinical response. Will forward to appropriate people."

Five days later, Kevin Holschlag made his third and final suicide attempt.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega