Veteran Ernest “Marty” Atencio Was Beaten To Death By Arpaio’s Screws
January 2, 2017 (Fault Lines) — The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a group of Sheriff Joseph Arpaio’s* screws correctional officers in a federal lawsuit filed by the estate of Gulf War veteran Ernest “Marty” Atencio.
Atencio’s family sued in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, and the facts alleged paint a sordid picture of his last moments at the Maricopa County’s Fourth Avenue Jail. Atencio, a schizophrenic, died after being beaten to a pulp, choked, tasered, and left to die in his cell. But Atencio did nothing to prompt this savagery, as if anything could justify or excuse that kind of response. From U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt’s Order upholding the lawsuit, describing Atencio’s booking and eventual pummeling:
After Hanlon removed Atencio’s handcuffs, he had an approximately thirty second back and forth conversation with Atencio regarding Atencio taking off his shoes so that they could be put through an x-ray machine. Atencio removed one shoe, but did not immediately remove his other shoe, instead pointing at Hanlon and stating, “You can take my shoe off for me?” Atencio, who had a wall at his back and was facing a semi-circle of officers, then merely crossed his arms over his chest.
In response, Hanlon immediately grabbed Atencio by the wrist, and twisted Atencio’s arm behind his back as the other officers, including French, immediately engaged. A struggle ensued, with Atencio standing but bent over by the officers and passively resisting. After approximately thirty-five seconds, French used what appears to be a choke hold or carotid hold on Atencio, and took Atencio to the ground with the assistance of the other officers. Numerous officers then held Atencio down on the ground in what has been characterized as a “dog pile.”
While Atencio was being held down, one of the officers – Defendant Weiers – tased Atencio and another officer – Defendant Hatton – administered numerous strikes to Atencio’s facial region. At no point was Atencio actively aggressive towards the officers, nor did Atencio display any violent or aggressive behavior towards anyone.
Before arriving at death’s door the county jail, Atencio had been accosted by Phoenix police officers at a 7-Eleven, as he had been acting erratically. After a brief chat with him, they cut him loose and told him to go home. Instead, Atencio ended up kicking at someone’s door. Who called the cops, who eventually took him into custody.
Prior to seeing bully Hanlon at the metal detector, Atencio was seen by a jail nurse, who conducted a “cursory evaluation.” That nurse sent him over to a mental health professional, who determined that Atencio was psychotic and “in crisis,” and may not be able to comply with a lawful order. But she did not inform any officers that Atencio might be hamstrung in his ability to cooperate with them, or at least alert them of his psychosis.
Why all this background, you ask? It’s because there was ample time and opportunity for jail staff to determine that Atencio might have a hard time complying with every command to the T. This is a snapshot into how America’s jails and prisons have become the country’s de-facto asylums for the mentally ill, and how they remain flagrantly incompetent in warehousing them.
Nonetheless, once it was time for Atencio’s booking, there was nothing that would justify what happened next. At worst, all Atencio did was passively resist the beating, choking, and tasering, all starting with a (playful?) request that Hanlon help him with one of his shoes. That is all it took to set them into DEFCON 4, to Atencio’s detriment demise.
Adding insult to injury (no pun), there were no post-beating efforts to make sure Atencio was not dying from the attack, save for a full on, gratuitous knee strike by Hanlon before Atencio was left to die in his cell:
Atencio was then carried by officers into a safe cell. Once in the safe cell, Atencio was placed on the floor and numerous officers held him down in a “dog pile” while his clothes were removed. While the officers were removing Atencio’s clothing, Hatton delivered a knee strike by dropping his full weight with his knee onto Atencio’s back. By the time the officers finished removing his clothes, Atencio appeared to be unconscious. However, no medical assessment of Atencio was completed and all personnel exited the safe cell, closing the door and leaving Atencio on the floor of the safe cell, naked and apparently unconscious.
Both Cranmer and McLean observed Atencio through the window of the safe cell door, but neither of them entered the safe cell at that time. Several minutes later, Cranmer and a nurse were in a room with video monitoring of the safe cell. The nurse, who was watching Atencio on a monitor, said to Cranmer, “Ian, I don’t think he’s breathing.” Cranmer responded, “Yeah he is. He’s just intoxicated. He’s okay. They tased him. He’s alright.”
Cranmer’s nonchalance (and “medical evaluation” of Atencio’s “intoxication and reaction to being tasered) speaks volumes. But it got worse for Atencio, as nine minutes went by before someone got back into his cell to administer CPR, but to no avail.
At Fault Lines, plenty of space has been devoted to exposing inmate abuse and deaths at the hands of correctional officers. The use of torturous solitary confinement as punishment has been discussed. While doing so may run the risk of desensitizing some readers when it comes to the subject, it is something that must be exposed time and time again. It remains a national disgrace that people are handled this way, often without provocation or justification. This latest case involved a schizophrenic veteran, who did nothing to deserve that horrible death.
*Arpaio was voted out as Maricopa County Sheriff in November, 2016. He’s got much bigger problems as of late, as there’s a good chance that he will be experiencing the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Spartan accommodations.