Tent City Beating is Nearly Fatal

On May 22, as he fielded questions on KFYI radio, Sheriff Joe Arpaio scoffed at accusations that his Tent City jail is inviting catastrophe.

"I haven't had any riots, I haven't had any problems with the tents or the jails. Where are my riots?" Arpaio said.

Judy Flanders couldn't believe what she was hearing. The Gilbert resident and optician called KFYI to confront Arpaio about her son, Jeremy, a Tent City inmate who last month spent two days on life support after being savagely beaten. She never got through.

Lieutenant Tim Campbell, one of the sheriff's public information officers, confirms that Arpaio was aware of the beating when he made his comments.

Jeremy Flanders, 20, is serving a yearlong sentence for four counts of burglary. On the afternoon of May 10, he had gone to bed early after a day of work as a chain-gang trusty. Only three guards were in place to watch more than 1,000 inmates, and they were staying comfortable in an office, away from the tents themselves. None of the guards heard a thing, apparently, when Flanders was pulled from his bed. He was beaten so badly that he was comatose when he was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital and put on a ventilator.

The incident is under investigation by the Sheriff's Office, and according to a witness who talked to New Times, what those investigators will find is that Jeremy Flanders was the victim of an unprovoked attack. And the weapons? The fists and feet of seven inmates, and one heavy, hard object: a tent stake.

When Jeremy Flanders was arrested for attempting to burglarize a home in May 1995, he did what would make any defense attorney cringe: He admitted to other crimes. His parents say he was determined to "come clean" after turning to theft to feed a drug habit. So he admitted to three unsolved burglaries and was sentenced to a year in Sheriff Arpaio's jail.

"Jeremy did something wrong, and he should be punished for it," Judy Flanders says. "He's made a lot of bad decisions in his life. But I want people to know we're not the kind of parents who let our kids run wild." She points out that their other child, Jeremy's older brother, Jason, is an optician and has been working to become a police officer.

Since Jeremy began his incarceration, the Flanderses say they've been in constant touch with him, visiting two to three times a week. They say he seemed determined to make the most of it: He entered drug rehabilitation, earned his GED, became a trusty, and worked at several jobs in the jail.

But along the way, he made an enemy. According to the anonymous letter sent to Jeremy while he was at St. Joseph's Hospital, as well as a recently released inmate who witnessed the beating, that person was someone named "Joe."

The recently released inmate--we'll call him Williams--tells New Times he was not certain why Jeremy Flanders was targeted but he thinks it may have been a disagreement over cigarettes, which are supposed to be verboten in Arpaio's jails but which he says sell for $10 a pack in the tents.

Williams says Joe "put a hit" on Flanders, and seven inmates carried it out. He says the three detention officers assigned to the tents area were inside an office. Williams says that the guards make trips through the tents every one or two hours, and that sometimes no inspections are made for up to four hours.

Sheriff Arpaio constantly crows that his Tent City is safe, and on May 22, he repeated his favorite--albeit erroneous--proof of it: "I slept in the tents with only two officers guarding a thousand people. I didn't have extra guards and so on. But I survived," he said.

But the Sheriff's Office admits that each of the two nights Arpaio spent in his tents, officers from the Tactical Operations Unit--Maricopa's version of SWAT--were stationed in a nearby building all night in case Arpaio needed rescuing, and one sharpshooter was stationed on the roof of Estrella Jail overlooking the tents.

No TOU sharpshooters were on the roof the afternoon of May 10, however, when seven inmates went looking for Jeremy Flanders.

At about 5:30 p.m., the inmates pulled a sleeping Flanders from his top bunk and began beating him. "They were jumping on his head," Williams says. Although a fence separated their tents, Williams says the flaps on Flanders' tent didn't come all the way to the ground, and he could see Flanders being kicked.

Finally, an inmate named Chris Champion came to Flanders' rescue. Williams says that after Champion entered the tent, the attackers scattered. Champion then picked up Flanders and carried him to the guards' office, tripping and dropping Flanders once along the way.