The family of a mentally ill man who died inside one of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Arizona jails could be awarded $7 million in a lawsuit settlement.
Ernest Atencio was beaten and tasered prior to his death.
The case is one of many lawsuits filed against Arpaio, now a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat, over the treatment of inmates in county jails during his 24 years as metro Phoenix’s top law enforcer. Excluding the $7 million from the proposed settlement to be voted on this week, Maricopa County has paid $33 million in jail-related legal claims that were filed during Arpaio’s six terms as sheriff.
Lawyers previously disclosed that Maricopa County had tentatively resolved the lawsuit in the death of Ernest Atencio, but the payout amount wasn’t publicly revealed until it was listed on a Board of Supervisors agenda posted Friday. The settlement is scheduled for a vote Wednesday.
The former sheriff developed a reputation as cruel and unrepentant when it came to the treatment of his prisoners -- even forcing some to live in outdoor tents and joking it was like a concentration camp.
In one case, the county and its insurance carrier paid $8.25 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged some of Arpaio’s detention officers had forced inmate Scott Norberg into a restraint chair and pushed his head into his chest after his arrest on suspicion of aggravated assault. Norberg’s 1996 death was ruled accidental by asphyxiation.
In Atencio's case, police suspected that he suffered from mental illness:
Atencio, 44, was arrested in December 2011 by Phoenix police on a misdemeanor assault charge after they say he frightened a woman by yelling at her and kicking at her apartment door. The officers who arrested him had had an encounter with Atencio earlier that day at a convenience store, where they concluded his erratic behavior was the result of mental illness, not intoxication.
The lawsuit accuses a Phoenix police officer of attacking Atencio at the jail after he refused to take off one of his shoes. It alleges that Arpaio’s officers joined in and formed a “dog pile” atop the inmate. A sheriff’s officer shot Atencio with a Taser, and another later struck him as other officers held him down, according to the suit.
The officers contended that Atencio was being combative at the time of his assault.