Turning Up the Heat | News | Phoenix | Phoenix New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Phoenix, Arizona

Turning Up the Heat

As you turn down the air conditioning in your dark living room during these brutal summer evenings, think for a moment about Leslie Christiansen, Daniel Purpura and Charles Ward. The latter two needlessly died in Outlaw Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County jail. Christiansen could soon become the next victim of Arpaio's...
Share this:
As you turn down the air conditioning in your dark living room during these brutal summer evenings, think for a moment about Leslie Christiansen, Daniel Purpura and Charles Ward.

The latter two needlessly died in Outlaw Joe Arpaio's Maricopa County jail. Christiansen could soon become the next victim of Arpaio's cruelty. She's praying she doesn't lose her leg from a massive infection contracted at the filthy Estrella facility.

Let's get this straight: I'm not saying any of these people shouldn't have been serving some jail time. What I am maintaining is that they didn't need to die or be threatened with amputation for their crimes against society.

There's a difference between justice and vengefulness. It's a distinction that is lost on Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose day of reckoning will surely come. Joe can only wash off so much blood from his gnarly old hands before they become permanently stained.

Charles Ward's body was removed from the Durango jail a few hours before Glen Campbell threw his 30-minute concert before Tent City inmates on July 9. Terrified and infuriated over Ward's death, inmates rioted in the pod, detention officers and inmates who were there tell me.

As detention officers fired pepper-spray canisters into the pod, Outlaw Joe was making sure all the media in the Valley were contacted so there would be saturation coverage of Campbell's performance. (Arpaio banned New Times from the event, naturally.) The concert came near the end of Campbell's cushy, 10-day stay in a private cell at a supposedly closed Mesa holding facility, where he strummed the nights away on his guitar.

Ward, 38, had a much different experience. Picked up on a warrant for failure to pay child support, Ward was tossed into the Durango jail where he joined a hundred or so other men packed together in the sweat and grime inside C-pod.

There's no air conditioning, or even a swamp cooler inside the Durango jail. Think about that as you adjust that thermostat and turn up the ceiling fan another notch.

Leaky pipes made the bathroom and shower floors slippery, slimy and treacherous. It was not a safe place for a man who could barely stand.

Ward was in severe pain. His mother tells me he had injured his lower back and needed a cane to hobble around. Ward clearly should have been in a different area of the jail designed to accommodate the injured. But Arpaio's philosophy of pack 'em in and take away their rights resulted in taking away Ward's life.

A witness who was in C-pod at that time, and since has been released, tells me that he saw Ward heading to the shower and heard him fall and hit the floor.

"He could barely manage to get himself in and out of the shower," says the former inmate, who asked not to be identified.

After Ward fell, the man tells me he knew Ward was severely injured.

"One of us went and pressed the emergency button and yelled `man down'" through a microphone, he said.

Detention officers soon arrived and immediately began cleaning up the showers and floors to make them appear to be clean, dry and in good condition before investigators would arrive to do a report, my source says.

Ward's body was removed, and word spread quickly through the pod that a man had died. An autopsy states that Ward died of a cerebral aneurysm.

"It freaked everybody out," the former inmate tells me.

Within 15 minutes, a riot broke out and the inmates sealed the entry doors to the pod using towels and bars of soap. The guards eventually regained control with pepper spray and special tactical units, the man says.

The sheriff's office refuses to comment on what happened in the pod, despite my July 9 request under the Arizona Public Records Law seeking documents related to Ward's death.

Ward would still be alive if he had been placed in a cellblock designed for the injured. Instead, Arpaio's henchmen put him into a dilapidated and dangerous facility where serious accidents are guaranteed to happen.

Arpaio has knowingly created and perpetuated dangerous conditions in the jail. He delights in the hell it creates for the people unfortunate enough to be incarcerated. I'm not the only one saying this.

The Arizona Court of Appeals said the same thing in a 2002 ruling over the heinous and dangerous conditions Arpaio has created in Tent City.

The 26-page opinion written by appeals court Judge Jefferson L. Lankford details the abuses and unsafe conditions that Arpaio brags about implementing at Tent City, where more than 1,800 inmates are supervised by only four detention officers.

Arpaio, Lankford wrote, "admitted knowing about and in fact intentionally designing, some conditions at Tent City that created a substantial risk of inmate violence: the lack of individual security and inmate control inherent in a tent facility; the small number of guards; a mixed inmate population subject to overcrowding; extreme heat and lack of amenities."

Arpaio doesn't give a damn about the ruling.

As for Daniel Purpura, he was suicidal when Outlaw Joe's deputies arrested him in mid-November 2000. The 41-year-old Purpura was depressed, apparently over a pending divorce. He had tried to overdose on Tylenol, and three days later, he fired a gun at deputies, hoping they would shoot him to death.

Deputies returned fire, according to a police report, but they missed Purpura.

Instead of dying, he was arrested and booked into the Madison Street Jail. Purpura was still intent on suicide, and a couple of days later, on November 19, 2000, he was found by detention officers with a plastic bag wrapped around his head. Once again, he survived.

At this point, sheriff's office records indicate, Purpura was finally placed on suicide watch, which consisted of having his arms and legs tied down to posts on each corner of a bed.

So much for effective medical treatment.

It was Purpura's third suicide attempt in less than a month. He obviously needed intense psychiatric care and constant supervision. Instead, he was subjected to barbaric conditions fueled by Outlaw Joe's philosophy that prisoners have no rights. Despite Purpura's clear depression and overt acts, he was removed from suicide watch after only three days.

That decision was made by a doctor employed with Maricopa County Correctional Health Services, which falls outside Arpaio's direct control. The doctor ordered Purpura moved from suicide watch and moved back into the general population on November 22, 2000.

Dr. Joseph Scalzo, director of correctional health, did not respond to my written questions about his department's decision regarding Purpura.

While Scalzo's doctors removed Purpura from the suicide watch, the location where Purpura was then sent and the amount of monitoring by guards that he would receive was under Outlaw Joe's control.

So where did Joe's jailers place the severely depressed and suicidal man?

In a cell with a double-bunk and plenty of sheets to use as a noose. Not only did the sheriff put Purpura in a cell where the tools of death were easily accessible, he was also placed in a pod where detention officers checked on cells only every half-hour.

On the evening of November 24, Purpura played cards for a while with his cellmate, Anthony Sealy. According to a sheriff's office report, Purpura told Sealy that the next time he attempted suicide he would succeed because he had a plan.

He certainly did.

Shortly after 1 a.m. on November 25, 2000, detention officers discovered him dead in his cell. He had wrapped a sheet over the top rail of the upper bunk and hanged himself.

Obviously, a person determined to kill himself will often succeed. But when a person -- particularly someone who is mentally ill -- is arrested and placed into custody, the public must demand that jailers treat these people humanely.

Outlaw Joe might as well have given Purpura a loaded gun.

After all, inmates like Purpura are more difficult and expensive to handle. And in Joe's sick world, anybody who is arrested deserves to be severely punished, and if that means they die, so what.

Leslie Christiansen, 39, is in jail on a probation violation.

In late June, Christiansen says she noticed a cut on her leg had become infected. Christiansen says she was not surprised because of the horrid conditions in her dormitory at the Estrella jail.

"People are sleeping on the floor and mice run over top of you," she tells me. "There are brown recluse spiders everywhere."

The infection got steadily worse, and despite her complaints to detention officers and nurses, nothing was done, Christiansen says. Luckily, she had a court appearance on June 30, and she and her attorney managed to get nurses at the Estrella jail to examine the wound on her leg.

The infection was so extensive that Christiansen was immediately transferred to Maricopa County Medical Center where she had emergency surgery to treat a form of flesh-eating bacteria, her attorney, Kirsten Curry, tells me.

Christiansen had to have a second surgery a few days later. "I would have definitely lost my leg unless somebody had done something," she says.

Christiansen has called me twice, collect, from the county hospital's jail ward. She says the conditions there are only slightly better than the jail itself. Her bathroom sink didn't work for a week, so she couldn't wash her hands. The toilets weren't cleaned. The windows were covered up, and there were no clocks. She says she didn't know what time of day it was, whether the sun was up or down.

Soon after her calls to me, which are taped by the sheriff's office, Christiansen was removed from the hospital ward and sent back to the Estrella jail -- despite the open wound on her leg.

Her distraught mother, Dee, sends me daily e-mails with updates on her daughter's horrific struggle inside Arpaio's gulag.

"They moved her back to Estrella yesterday [July 20]. Gaping wound, and all. Visited her today. She is very depressed and angry. . . . She is on crutches, can hardly walk."

Dee is worried that her daughter may become suicidal or otherwise become another victim of Outlaw Joe's brutal regime.

Hey, Joe, listen up: If Leslie Christiansen loses her leg, or worse, you will be held accountable. Not that a sociopath like you really cares. But -- combined with the multitude of other problems you face this election year -- the voters sure will.

Can you help us continue to share our stories? Since the beginning, Phoenix New Times has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix — and we'd like to keep it that way. Our members allow us to continue offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food, and culture with no paywalls.