Nick Hentoff's Maricopa County Jail Litigation

ARTICLE — From the April 2001 issue of Harperś Magazine, ¨Star of Justice On the job with America’s Toughest Sheriff By Barry Graham

Nick Hentoff is a lawyer who, in true Arizona style, is a member of both the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1993 he was representing indigent inmates of the county jails, and he began noticing similarities in their accounts of torture by Arpaio’s guards. He filed suit on behalf of several such inmates, including Richard Post. When the case load became too much for him, he brought in another attorney, Joel Robbins. The lawsuits alleged that Arpaio created and nurtured a climate that encouraged the guards to abuse inmates.

The lawyers had a difficult task ahead of them. Arpaio’s popularity is like the summer heat in Arizona—it’s so relentless, so overwhelming, that it’s hard to imagine challenging it. When I told people what had happened to Richard Post, the most common response was, “Well, what had he done?” If Arpaio’s guards had tortured a paraplegic, he must have done something to deserve it. If other inmates were choked or beaten to death, it must have been their own fault. Criminals shouldn’t be mollycoddled. No one wanted to hear that 70 percent of those in jail hadn’t been convicted of anything. They were awaiting trial, didn’t have the money to make bail, and were presumed innocent.

The lawsuits started coming down, nearly a thousand of them, and many are still pending. So far, the total bill for jury awards and settlements is approximately $15 million. It would almost certainly be a few million more if Richard Post had taken his lawsuit to trial. Instead, just wanting it to be over, he accepted a settlement of $800,000.

Read the entire article. 

See Graham, ¨Star of Justice: On the job with America’s Toughest Sheriff," Harper's Magazine (April 2001)

Former jail inmates sue, claim abuse

by The Associated Press on May. 08, 1995, under Local

PHOENIX – Attorneys for a group of former Maricopa County jail inmates hope their legal challenges will bring attention to alleged abuse by detention officers.

Former inmate Eric Johnson says three officers broke his left arm Nov. 2 when he was yanked from his cell and slammed against a wall after he called an officer a dirty name. Johnson had been jailed for several hours on a warrant stemming from two traffic citations and wanted a sandwich but a jailer ignored him, so Johnson shouted at him.

“What we have here is a guy who has permanent damage because he called someone a name,’ attorney Kevin Van Norman said. “Unless the Sheriff’s Office is punished for advocating this type of conduct, it will not stop.’

The incident was taped by a security camera inside the jail.

Johnson, 37, who has no known felony record, is one of about six former county inmates who have filed recent claims or lawsuits alleging assault by jailers.

Johnson filed a $600,000 claim against the county for permanent injury and pain.

Attorney Nicholas Hentoff, who represents some former inmates, believes detention officers have become more aggressive since Joe Arpaio became sheriff in 1993.

Arpaio’s belief that making jail so miserable that inmates won’t want to go back has created an atmosphere that condones inmate abuse, Hentoff said.

However, Hentoff said, that assumes that all people in jails are criminals but about 60 percent of those jailed are awaiting hearings and have not been convicted of anything.

The Arizona Republic said Arpaio refused requests to be interviewed for today’s story.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 8th, 1995 at 8:20 am 

From The Arizona Republic - Sept. 10, 1995:

Phoenix lawyer Nicholas Hentoff, who filed all three suits, suspects that jailers have become more aggressive since Arpaio took office in 1993 because his tough talk gives the impression that he condones abuse of inmates.

Hentoff and Kevin Van Norman, a Scottsdale lawyer who is assisting with two of the suits filed last week, say that impression was reinforced in a February interview with CBS News.

In it, Arpaio was asked whether he knew how Johnson's arm was broken.

He responded, ''No, I'm not, but so what? I'm sure that my officers had a reason to slam him against the cellblock.''

Privately, some law-enforcement officials say that they are concerned about such an attitude and fear that it transcends to detention officers.

* * * *  * * * *  

Napolitano and other Justice Department officials declined to say what sparked the investigation. But civil-rights probes commonly begin after complaints are made to the department.
In February, Hentoff wrote to the Justice Department, saying sheriff's officials may be violating inmates' civil rights.

As an example, he said he knew of an inmate who was allegedly beaten so severely that he has permanent loss of vision.

''The assault was so severe that the inmate defecated in his pants during the beating and was not allowed to change his clothing or shower for 24 hours,'' Hentoff wrote.Read more: