Sanitized for Joe's Protection

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The officers themselves made almost no comments to investigators about their own states of mind, concentrating solely on Norberg's behavior. But again, hard evidence tends to support the inmates.

In the videotape, it's possible, when faces are close to the camera, to see more expressions of mirth than of alarm. And one of the most intriguing, and chilling, episodes in the Norberg drama is the nonchalance of the 911 call for help after jailers realized Norberg wasn't breathing.

Not surprisingly, the inmates' version of events has been dismissed by Sheriff Arpaio. However, recognizing the skepticism the public would hold toward an investigation conducted by his own employees, the sheriff has developed a typically Arpaioesque strategy: He dares other authorities to look into the matter, as if to do so would be political suicide. Meanwhile, he continues to suggest that inmate accounts are tainted by self-interest while those of detention officers facing possible homicide charges are not.

A Mesa Tribune columnist has made the case that Judge Bushor's version of events should be considered the most objective and compelling, since Bushor was neither a jail employee nor an inmate. But the judge acknowledges to investigators that when Norberg was pulled out of the holding tank, he moved to the end of the hall. Of all of the witnesses interviewed by investigators, Bushor is among the least descriptive.

Bushor also admits that the inmates, looking out of the holding tank's window, had a better vantage point.

Two inmates, interviewed separately, give investigators particularly intriguing and consistent accounts of what ignited Norberg's brawl with jailers. They say Norberg was in a half-conscious state, sitting on the cell's floor with his back to the door when Detention Officer David Gurney opened it and tried to get Norberg's attention. Norberg ignored Gurney's command to stand up for an initial appearance with Judge Bushor. So Gurney moved toward Norberg and prodded him. That's when, the inmates say, Norberg suddenly stood up, spooking Gurney. Norberg's move wasn't aggressive, the inmates say, but Gurney nonetheless reacted by knocking Norberg over and sparking the free-for-all.

Gurney's version of the incident doesn't differ much from that of the two inmates. Gurney tells investigators that he was surprised by Norberg's sudden move, but he argues that he made a conscious decision to grasp Norberg because the inmate's fists were clenched. That sign of aggression--even though Norberg was facing away--justified flattening the inmate, Gurney claims.

After that, detention officers tell investigators, they simply reacted to Norberg's surprising strength.

Even after he was handcuffed and pinned, detention officers say, the former college football player continued to struggle and throw officers like a bucking bronc. The jailers became determined to lock Norberg down so he couldn't fight anymore.

They succeeded.
Explains one officer to his interrogator: "Norberg never said he couldn't breathe.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega