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Latino Army Veteran is Brain Dead After “Use of Extensive Force” by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Department

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ernest atencio

A Gulf War veteran has been left brain-dead after being arrested, restrained, and tasered by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, says the Arizona Republic, a case which starkly highlights last week’s news about “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio.

According to his family, Ernest M. Atencio, 44, was a “sweet and loving boy” who suffered from a mental illness.  According to the Republic, he became aggressive when being booked into a jail in Phoenix last Friday. Guards then tasered him until he suffered a heart attack.  His family is now deciding when to take him off life support.

As Lieutenant Mike Stauffer, an Arpaio opponent for county sheriff, wrote on Facebook:

We received news from an inside source that a Latino inmate at the 4th Avenue Jail is brain dead due to excessive force by detention officers.

The news is the latest scandal in a string of headlines on how Sheriff Arpaio is policing Maricopa County.  Last week, the Department of Justice found evidence of “discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of [Arpaio’s] department, a culture that breeds a systematic disregard for basic constitutional protections,” according to Thomas Perez, who heads the DOJ’s civil rights division.  The evidence included instances of discrimination and racial profiling that involved keeping Latino inmates who didn’t understand English in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, and forcing a pregnant undocumented woman to give birth while shackled to a bed.

The Department of Homeland Security consequently severed its ties with Arpaio, revoking the remainder of Maricopa County’s 287(g) program and stripping local officers of the federal power to check their inmates’ immigration status.

Arpaio now has until January to decide whether he will reform his policies or face a lawsuit.  Despite calls for him to step down, he says he has no intention to resign as Sheriff and, incredibly, suggests that he is still interested in a run for U.S. Senate.

In the meantime, Atencio’s condition is all-too-real proof of Arpaio’s heartlessly destructive policies.  As State Sen. Steve Gallardo (D), who met with Atencio’s family at the hospital to offer support, said:

If someone is booked in jail and they are acting up, I expect (deputies) to do what they can to subdue them; you should not end up having an individual on life support.

For more about the worst of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio, read our fact sheet here.