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Fatal Beating in Arpaio Jail, Family Says

PHOENIX (CN) - A mentally ill Army veteran died in one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jails after jailers beat and Tasered him, the man's family claims in court.

The family of the late Ernesto "Marty" Atencio sued Arpaio, Maricopa County and others, in Maricopa County Court.

The family claims that Phoenix police made contact with Atencio, 44, at a 7-Eleven, on Dec. 15, 2011, "but concluded that the cause of his strange behavior was mental illness, as opposed to the use of drugs or alcohol."

Atencio was "instructed to return home," but he was arrested later that day when he was found kicking at a woman's apartment door, the family says.

Upon entering the Fourth Avenue Jail, Atencio was screened by defendants Monica Scarpati and Bill McLean, who admitted Atencio into an isolation cell after Scarpati "knew or should have known, that Marty suffered from mental illness based on her previous contact with him," according to the complaint.

As Atencio had his mug shot taken, detention officers taunted him, "asking him to 'clown' for them, telling him to 'turn left,' 'turn right,' and making fun of Marty's inability to follow instructions," the complaint states. "As the guards made fun of Marty, they told him to make faces and the photographer, a female Detention Officer, kept saying, 'Let's make this the Mug Shot of the Week.' After they took a particularly humiliating mug shot, the D.O.s finished their fun with Marry and took him back to the holding tank."

The family says defendant Officer Patrick Hanlon then escorted Atencio to the "Linescan Room," where officers asked Atencio to remove his shoes. When Atencio refused to remove his left shoe, Hanlon and defendant Officer Nicholas French "immediately began a physical struggle with Marty" using "gratuitous and unreasonable" force that "would lead to a jailer's riot, which would soon cause Marty's death," the complaint states.

Defendant detention officers Jaime Carrasco, Adrian Dominguez, Christopher Foster, Jose Vazquez, and Craig Kaiser joined the riot by "forming a 'dog pile' on top of Marty," and defendant Sgt. Jason Weiers "used excessive force on Marty by Tasing him, multiple times, including, at least one time, in a manner close to Marty's heart," the family says.

They say defendant Anthony Hatton struck Atencio in the face repeatedly.

Detention officers carried Atencio to a cell and held him down while Hatton struck him several more times, "while Marty lay on the floor unconscious and lifeless," according to the complaint.

Jail surveillance video showed Hatton "with a smile on his face, talking to other officers, while two MCSO women danced and bumped their buttocks together" after the assault, the family claims.

Atencio's family says Maricopa County and Sheriff Joe Arpaio "were aware of a long history of deliberate indifference to the provision of medical care to those in the county's jails and 'long-overdue, constitutionally required corrections that needed to be made as quickly as possible.'"

ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler said in a statement: "This tragic case is yet another example of how Sheriff Arpaio has condoned a 'culture of cruelty' and has no regard for basic human decency. His jails fail to meet even minimum constitutional standards and at some point he must be held accountable to improve conditions and prevent these types of unnecessary deaths."

The Atencios seek punitive damages for wrongful death and civil rights violations. They are represented by Michael Manning and Larry Wulkan, with Stinson, Morrison, Hecker.

Arpaio is seeking re-election to a sixth term as sheriff. A recent poll commissioned by Arpaio placed him with 45.4 percent of the vote, Democrat Paul Penzone with 30 percent, and Independent Mike Stauffer with 3 percent of the vote, according to news reports.

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