Tent City Beating is Nearly Fatal

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The tents, he says, were the worst place for a former drug user to stay clean.

Seven months in Durango Jail awaiting trial had kicked his crack habit, Flanders says, because the stuff simply wasn't available. After sentencing, however, Flanders was sent to Tent City.

"I wasn't there an hour when I saw people smoking dope, shooting up." He says he's managed to stay clean, but it's tougher when so many drugs are available. "Durango is more like a jail. The tents is more like the street," he says.

"It's not that hard to get beat up [in the tents]. There's almost no guards. Only on certain days when Joe Arpaio is there, then there are a lot of security people."

Despite the lack of guards and the presence of drugs, Flanders says he was doing well in Tent City. Except that he'd managed to make one enemy. Flanders acknowledges that "Joe" had become a problem.

"I know who he is. He doesn't like me. That was the only enemy I had." Flanders says that the original disagreement between them had something to do with cigarettes, but he doesn't elaborate. "I offered to fight him one on one and he refused. That was the night before I got beat up."

Flanders remembers going to bed on Thursday night. The next thing he remembers is waking up in a hospital room Sunday and seeing his brother. He not only doesn't remember the attack, he doesn't even remember working Friday.

"I guess I almost died. I was told someone had to do CPR on me. I woke up with tubes down my throat," he says matter-of-factly.

The entire episode seems hardly to have affected him, and he says he's not really worried about being sent back to the tents. It's hard to tell if he's telling the truth, or if after a year in jail, he's learned to talk a flat, emotionless talk. Flanders can only relate what he's been told about the beating itself, as if it happened to someone else.

"Somebody in the Horseshoe [the Madison Street Jail holding area] said a tent stake caused the cut on the back of my head."

Judy Flanders tries to communicate the frustration she felt that week, but she knows it's something that's difficult to explain. "Until you've walked in our shoes, you have no idea how we've felt from the beginning of this," she says. After their son had been moved from St. Joseph's Hospital, the Flanderses say they found it nearly impossible to get information about the Sheriff's Office's plans for Jeremy. Their greatest fear: that Jeremy would be moved back into the tents.

They say they got no cooperation from the Sheriff's Office until they made one key phone call: to U.S. Attorney Janet Napolitano, who is overseeing a Department of Justice investigation into allegations that inmates in Arpaio's jails are being abused, that the abuse is covered up and that inmates are denied access to lawyers and medical care.

Once the U.S. Attorney's Office called the Sheriff's Office, Judy Flanders says, sheriff's employees suddenly became helpful. She says Deputy Chief Larry Wendt, who oversees jail operations, sent a message through a subordinate that he'd personally see to it that Jeremy wasn't moved back into the tents.

Despite the nearly fatal beating of Jeremy Flanders, the Sheriff's Office denies that there's a problem with security at Tent City. Lieutenant Campbell acknowledges that Jeremy Flanders was attacked by fellow inmates and suffered brain swelling, but he says that most of the damage occurred when Flanders was dropped by the inmate carrying him away from the beating. (Dr. Casano says that when Flanders first arrived at St. Joseph's, the Sheriff's Office told doctors that Flanders had fallen out of his bunk bed.)

As to the reason guards were unaware such an attack was occurring, Sergeant John Kleinheinz, another public information officer, says that the attack occurred near the time of a shift change at six o'clock, which could explain why guards were inattentive. And as for the delay in notifying Flanders' parents, Kleinheinz says that notification of parents is not something they immediately do when the inmate is an adult.

In what may be a first, Sheriff Joe Arpaio turned down repeated requests for an interview.

Judy and Tom Flanders, meanwhile, have retained attorney Kevin Van Norman, who is considering filing a negligence lawsuit on Jeremy's behalf. Van Norman says the extent of injuries make him believe that some kind of weapon was used. Van Norman says he's heard Williams' story of the tent stake, and that he believes the county is responsible for keeping such implements out of the hands of inmates. He also believes that Tent City lacks adequate guards to assure the safety of inmates.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega