Saturday, February 4, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Swaggering Western Lawman Tagged in Death

PHOENIX (CN) - Controversial lawman Joe Arpaio has been sued over the gruesome death of a naked, handcuffed prisoner who was pepper-balled, Tased and beat to death by sheriff deputies, while in his cell, according to a complaint filed in Maricopa County.

In the lawsuit, the wife and children of Juan Mendoza say that on Dec. 2, 2007, Juan F. Mendoza was picked up by deputies on an outstanding drunk driving warrant, before he was "repeatedly, brutally and aggressively assaulted, and subjected to multiple physical tortures resulting in deadly injuries."

At times, they say, he was handcuffed and shackled naked with a hood over his head when deputies launched at least 10 pepper balls at Mendoza, causing the air to become so saturated that some deputies "started to gag" and had to leave the cell. Deputies then Tased him, causing Mendoza to fall to the ground.

During the attack against Mendoza, other inmates allegedly yelled at them to stop "hitting a handcuffed and defenseless, naked man."

According to the complaint, Mendoza suffered many blunt force injuries, contusions and abrasions, multiple fractured ribs and internal neck hemorrhaging that resulted in his death. Deputies told the family that Mendoza died from natural causes in his cell. He was 40 years old.

Mendoza's family requested that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office provide them with his file, but they didn't receive any information concerning the events until after the re-election on Nov. 4 of Joe Arpaio as Maricopa County Sheriff, they say. When the family did receive documents, the video surveillance, deputy paperwork and inmate witness testimony were not included.

Also, according to the family, hundreds of pages had blacked out information.

Mendoza's widow and children are represented by Luis Guerra.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.