By John Dickerson
Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s attorney has turned over part of a video of a jail inmate's death at the hands of county jailers. But the video, which New Times has been seeking for four months, stops about 10 minutes before the suspicious death of Juan Mendoza Farias.
The video (excerpts of which are above) does show that Farias was alive and moving around, naked, on a jail floor minutes before an altercation with 11 detention officers that left him dead. For some reason, guards had cut the clothes from his body.
Based on the way he appears in the footage above, it's difficult to understand why he needed the physical restraint that the MCSO says he required. Farias seems unable to even get up off the floor just before he's put in a wheelchair.
The video shows guards moving Farias to the cell in which he died, including a few stops along the way. But then the footage stops abruptly before the guards and Farias enter the cell.
Jail incident reports show Farias stopped breathing between 11:08 and 11:20 p.m., when he was pinned down on his stomach. Conveniently for the sheriff, the video given to New Times ends at 11:07 p.m. – just one minute before that window into the truth about Farias’ death would have opened.
The partial video is one more development in a public records battle that New Times has been fighting with the sheriff. It was in July when the newspaper first requested the video and other records about Farias, who died on December 5, 2007.
The sheriff denied that request, citing a supposed “ongoing investigation” into the matter. New Times secured a handful of jail documents about the death through an alternate source. These documents show that Farias may have been mistreated or even beaten and suffocated by jail guards.
In October, New Times filed a lawsuit against the sheriff, in an effort to secure the video and shine light on the final moments of Farias’ life.
Recently, sheriff’s attorney Michelle Iafrate abandoned the “ongoing investigation” cause for withholding the records. On Wednesday, she gave New Times a copy of jail video footage for $10.
But the footage she finally turned over is not entirely what the paper requested. We asked for the "Maricopa County Jail video footage from December 5, 2007 between 2300 hours and 0022 hours [11 p.m. and 12:22 am.] of Juan Mendoza Farias’ restraint, transport to the psychiatric unit and time in the psychiatric unit, until his transport to St. Joseph’s hospital.”
Instead, the sheriff’s attorney produced a video of Farias from about 9 p.m. to 11:07 p.m.
The video ends before Farias was shoved by 11 guards into another jail cell. There, about 11:08 p.m. according to incident reports, the guards pinned Farias facedown, with his hands cuffed behind his back. They eventually noticed that he wasn’t breathing. When they rolled him over, the mask covering his mouth was filled with blood. Guards initiated CPR on Farias between 11:15 and 11:20 p.m., according to written incident reports.
None of that – the entire purpose for the records request and lawsuit – was in the footage provided to New Times.
Iafrate has not returned a phone message requesting comment about why the video stops just before the events that led to Farias’ death.
Iafrate has offered New Times copies of the nearly 5,000 pages of MCSO documents on the death. Naturally, she said, parts of these public records will be blacked out (or redacted). For what reason, New Times can only speculate, but we feel certain that these passages do not make the Sheriff's Office look good.
The cost of these 5,000 pages? About $2,500.