News

Torture Chamber

Eric Vogel was terrified to walk from his house. He imagined getting lost and confused. He imagined police arresting him and hauling him off to jail, a place where hulking guards would humiliate him, strip him naked and torture him.

Vogel, 36, was paranoid and delusional. He was mentally ill.

He was also right. Vogel is now dead, another unseen casualty of the law-and-order campaign of America's Toughest Sheriff, Joe Arpaio. On March 27, Arpaio will announce if he plans to run for governor.

Vogel feared Arpaio, according to his mother. He had seen the stories about Scott Norberg and Charles Agster, two mentally ill men who were killed by Arpaio's men.

Norberg, who was beaten, kicked, and repeatedly stun-gunned for more than 10 minutes by a dozen jailers, died in the jail's "restraint chair" after two guards held his head down against his chest.

During that struggle, a guard noticed Norberg could not breathe, according to court papers. Another guard responded, "Who gives a fuck?" Another said, "Who gives a shit?"

That attitude came from their boss, Joe Arpaio, who said he wanted his jails to be "places of punishment."

Nearly 75 percent of those receiving "punishment" in Arpaio's jails have not been convicted of any crime. Many of them, like Eric Vogel, were mentally ill people who got lost in a world they didn't understand.

Arpaio defended his guards in the Norberg case and then began a campaign to spoil the investigation of the killing. He hid and destroyed evidence and used the power of his office to block the guards from prosecution, according to court papers.

Last summer, Agster, a 33-year-old man with the mental development of a 13-year-old, also died in the restraint chair. He didn't understand what was happening to him in jail, so he panicked. The 132-pound man was beaten and then wrestled into the restraint chair, where he died of "positional asphyxia due to restraint," according to his autopsy report.

The county medical examiner absurdly listed the death as an "accident."

Arpaio admitted no wrongdoing. He has also blocked Agster's family from viewing the videotape of his beating.

Now comes the latest casualty, Eric Vogel.

Vogel's family also has been blocked from the videotape of his beating.

From 1985 to November of 2001, Eric Vogel never left his house without his mother, Ann.

Eric had a life before 1985. He was enrolled in Arizona State University, hoping to become a doctor. But in 1985, Eric came down with Valley fever and was laid up for several months. During that time, too, he watched police haul his father from their home after a fight with a neighbor. Something apparently snapped. He no longer could walk from his yard without panic attacks.

In recent months, Eric had been trying to work up the courage to leave the house. On November 12, 2001, Eric told his mother it was time for him to reenter society. "I want to go for a walk," he said. "Just a little walk. I can do it."

She believed it was a bad idea, but relented. Ann drove Eric to a mailbox near 44th Street and Union Hills and drove home. It was only a few blocks away.

Ten minutes later, police arrived at her door. Did she have a son named Eric?

Apparently, Eric had become confused as he walked. He roamed into someone's backyard.

Believing Eric was a burglar, the homeowner called police.

A Phoenix police officer arrived. Eric walked from behind a bush and moved swiftly toward the officer. Eric mumbled something about the FBI, about needing the officer's car to get away. He was clearly panicked and delusional.

Eric jumped into the driver's seat of the cruiser. The officer wrestled him away. Eric grabbed at the officer's waist, probably for keys. The officer believed Eric, who was 6'3" and 190 pounds, was going for his gun.

In the ensuing struggle, a second officer sprayed Mace in Eric's face. The first officer struck him several times on his left thigh with a baton. Vogel repeatedly asked the police to shoot him.

Finally, Eric calmed down and was placed in the back of the cruiser, where Eric asked the voices in his head how he should answer the officer's questions.

Less professional or experienced cops probably would have shot Eric Vogel. He was lucky to be alive.

Eric was charged with assault on a police officer and taken to Madison Street Jail.

Phoenix officers made it clear throughout their police reports that this suspect had signs of mental illness. Eric continued to talk to the voices in his head.

A judge set his bond at $26,000, typical for such a serious charge. He was placed alone in an isolation cell.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robert Nelson