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 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."