Not My Hero-Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Every time I hear someone sing the praises of Joe Arpaio I cringe.  My heart starts thumping in my chest and my face goes red.   I repeat “they don’t know” over and over to myself so that my response, if I can get one out, will be a productive one.  In most cases, they don’t know.  They know the myth, the legend that Sheriff Joe has promoted with the skill of a Hollywood celebrity promoter.  The Toughest Sheriff in America, in reality, is the Sickest Sheriff in America.  Joe Arpaio is NOT my hero.  Is he yours?

This is one of many similar cases born of Sheriff Arpaio’s reign over Maricopa County.

If you find it difficult to muster sympathy for a former Eagle Scout turned drug addict then consider this.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio has cost Maricopa County $43 million in lawsuit settlements.  Maricopa County jail boasts 50 times as many jail-conditions lawsuits as New York, Houston L.A and Chicago jail systems- combined.

Not that the criminal status of any citizen negates basic human rights but bear in mind that Sheriff Arpaio runs a jail, not a prison.  In Maricopa County jail up to three quarters of inmates have not been convicted of any crime they are awaiting trial, unable to make bail.


Murder on Madison: The Norberg Remix

Tweaker inmate who died at the hands of jailers was also a loving son

By David Holthouse

published: April 15, 1999

I’m watching a snuff film, and it’s hard-core. The snuffers–there’s a pack of them, male and female–are in uniforms. Scott Norberg, the man who will be killed on film, has blond hair, jeans, no shirt. He is slumped down, back against a wall. He looks confused.

It begins.
A fat guard with stupid eyes grabs Norberg’s foot, then drags him down a hall and into a cell, beyond the camera’s view. A bullish female guard follows. When she comes out of the cell a few seconds later, she is holstering a stun gun. I have the impression she just fed Norberg a taste of the whip.

This proves to be only the wicked foreplay.
The fat snuffer rushes back into the cell, and from the way he moves, I can tell Norberg is on the floor, and the fat snuffer is going to grab him. Other guards race down the hall and frantically huddle around the cell’s door. The film is grainy monochrome. I cannot see exactly what is happening to Norberg, but I know it’s not good.

Two male guards haul Norberg, who is now handcuffed, out of the cell and heave him onto his feet. A female guard approaches, pushing a black steel chair with straps like tentacles. I think of the torture museum in Amsterdam.

Norberg sees the chair and struggles. The guards swarm and force him into the device, lashing his arms behind him. They surround him, jostling like jackals on a carcass. I see flashes from stun guns. One guard wraps a white towel around the man’s face. I watch in horror as he slowly suffocates.

Once Norberg is dead, some of the guards continue to circle him, excited. Others walk away, wiping blood and sweat from their faces. One goes to a sink and cleans her hands.

The last scene is of an inmate with a mop, swabbing the blood off the floor.

The snuff film’s title is a real grabber: Plaintiff’s Video. It’s security-camera footage from inside the Madison Street Jail’s intake area, a.k.a. the Horseshoe. It was recorded June 1, 1996.

Scott Norberg’s death–murder, the way I see it–became The Norberg Case, settled out of court in January for $8.25 million. Maricopa County’s insurance carrier laid that number on the table after receiving a package from the Norberg family’s attorney, Mike Manning.

The package contained several items. One was a video that contained taped depositions of witnesses and participants in Norberg’s killing, and a news clip of Sheriff Joe Arpaio being interviewed on the Today show. Arpaio says “isolated incidents” a lot.

Also in the package were autopsy photos of Norberg’s battered corpse (he had multiple bruises and contusions; he had been burned with a stun gun at least 14 times; his larynx had been cracked), a birthday letter Norberg had written to his father in July 1994, and a remarkable legal brief authored by Manning, which includes a literal, blow-by-blow account of Norberg’s death at the hands–and feet and stun guns–of 14 jailers.

(see also Sheriff’s Cover-up? )

I have this same package, including the “Plaintiff’s Confidential Settlement Memo,” and I have read and viewed the tapes and letters and photos and the brief many times.

I am convinced it was Scott Norberg’s letter to his father–or rather that letter juxtaposed against the damning snuff film and Manning’s devastating narrative–that induced the insurance lawyers to cut a check and run. The insurers didn’t want this package in a jury’s hands. They knew the jury, like me, would not identify with the killers in the snuff film, but with the blond-haired man with no shirt, trapped and terrified, about to die. The blond-haired man who wrote eloquent, reminiscent birthday letters to his beloved father, Jaron. I understand this most clearly when I read the two, the birthday letter and the jail chronology, as one. Like this:

Dad: The main reason for this letter is to wish you a very happy 57th birthday. I remember when I was a kid how ancient 57 would have sounded to me. Then again, 31 or 32 didn’t sound much better and that’s where I find myself now.

At least 25 witnesses saw [jailer] Gurney initiate what was to be a brutal, completely unprovoked and lethal attack upon Scott. . . . Within 58 seconds of its beginning, 11 jailers were in or waiting outside of Tank 6. Scott was immediately stunned multiple times with stun guns.

I wrote Mike a couple of weeks ago and reminisced about his birthday on the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon, recalling how he and I had gone outside on our carport to see if we could see the guys on the moon.

Within 30 seconds Scott was on his stomach with his hands cuffed behind his back. Scott was repeatedly punched and kicked inside Tank 6. At least one jailer stood in the middle of his back. They “jacked-up” Scott’s handcuffed hands up into the air behind him, until he yelled out in pain.

In wishing you a happy birthday, I want to say I just hope I can hang in there through these next 25 years as well as you have. In 25 years I’ll be facing the 57 number myself.

As Scott was being beaten, he yelled such things as “What did I do?” “I didn’t do anything wrong,” and “Please have patience.”

I cringe inside to think how much worse off I’d be now without all your positive influence, teachings and early groundwork in my being.

A jailer standing at Scott’s head dragged him out of Tank 6 by pulling his handcuffed arms toward his head until he slid face forward down to the floor.

What I’m trying, but probably failing to say is this: You still are my point of reference for much of what I expect a man to be. You still are my hero. I look up to you. I seek your pride and approval.

Once in the hallway . . . Gurney pulled off Scott’s boots, and positioned his ankle bone to the floor and stomped on his ankle. Other jailers kicked Scott, including Gurney and Douglas, who kicked Scott in the throat.

Many would say that fathers and sons have a love/hate relationship. I’d say it’s more like love/angst. We’ve had our run-ins and estrangements, but always the love. Always the love.

Guards continued stunning Scott with their stun guns. One guard, believed to be Spidell, stood on Scott’s head, and pushed it against the floor.

I unknowingly dragged you and mom with me as the cosigners of Consequence. We all have the next 25 years for me to right my wrongs and rebuild our love.

Leg irons were placed on his left ankle.
So many good memories filled my mind when I thought of you and what I might write tonight. . . . Our good times. Ways that you helped me discover life and my possibilities.

A Phoenix police officer who was booking a prisoner at the time of Scott’s beating testified that guards yelled such things as “How do you like it?” and “You want some more of this?”

First, you taught me there was a God. You showed me how to believe. You taught me the power of prayer.

Scott, on the other hand, yelled “Oh, God, help me.”
I remember hardly being able to wait until you came home from work so you and I could play together.

Jailer Gonder brought a steel restraint chair to the scene.
On referees and umpires [you told me]: “They’re doing their best. Good ones even things up, and make up for bad calls. Just play, don’t argue with them.”

Scott was lifted into the chair. His handcuffed arms were placed over the back of the chair, so that the thin, hard steel of the back of the chair cut into his biceps and armpits. At the same time, Spidell pulled Scott’s handcuffs backward and upward, bending Scott over at the waist.

After my concussion at McClintock my Jr. year, you were there for me and gave me a blessing in the ambulance/station wagon.

Walsh called for a towel to wrap around Scott’s face.
Listening to you play the piano. Listening to you carry that bass line on hymns at Church.

Walsh held both ends of the towel tightly. Inmate witnesses say Walsh pulled the towel around Scott’s neck, and used it to choke him.

Trying to read books from your library. Learning the magic of books. I remember: Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, Chaim Potok, John Steinbeck, Woodward and Bernstein, Fitzgerald, etc., etc.

Jail surveillance tapes show the towel was wrapped around Scott’s face or neck for 4 minutes and 18 seconds.

Black Jelly Bean nights at our house. Peanut M&Ms, Risk games, and albums playing on the stereo.

During that time, Musbach and a male jailer pushed their knees into Scott’s waist and groin. Guards tried to bend Scott over in the chair until his head was forced to the level of his knees.

Your 35th birthday, candles that wouldn’t blow out.

Gurney, Musbach and Spidell pushed Scott’s head down into his chest, and kept constant pressure on it.

Pretty good memories.
Musbach continued to intermittently stun Scott in the chest and abdomen with her stun gun. Each application caused Scott’s abdomen and chest muscles to seize and contract, which interrupted his breathing and further robbed him of precious oxygen.

There’s so much more in my life that reminds me of you and makes me feel good inside. As far as I can tell, we’ve had a pretty awesome life as father and son.

Walsh warned Spidell, who was pushing down on Scott’s head that she did not think Scott could breathe, and was turning purple. Spidell admits he responded “Who gives a f%#!?”

On the surface, my self-portrait may now be muddled and marred. But underneath await the colors of a masterpiece. Beneath crude rock, a “David” is still breathing. Love, Scott.

Scott gave one final, spastic kick, and fell limp.

Scott Norberg had drug problems, and no excuse for them. He was an Eagle Scout and a high school football star. He scored a full athletic scholarship to the University of Nebraska, where he started snorting coke like Scarface. He bailed on Nebraska and became a Mormon missionary in Argentina to get clean. Once back in Arizona, he caved in to coke again, then started doing crystal meth.

The day before he was killed, Norberg’s vehicle ran out of gas, and he tried to push his truck to a convenience store. He collapsed in the parking lot and was taken by ambulance to an emergency room, where he was diagnosed with dehydration and abnormally low blood sugar. This could well mean he had been up for days on speed.

He was released from the hospital, then arrested in Mesa four hours later, after police received reports of a delirious, hostile man wandering a neighborhood. (After leaving the hospital, Norberg had gone to his former in-laws’ home, saying that he needed a blessing; they had suggested he go see a Mormon bishop; he was looking for that bishop when someone called the police.)

Norberg spoke gibberish to the police who approached him, and popped one of them in the head when he was being handcuffed. At the Mesa police station, he shouted nonsense. One officer testified that when he told Scott to shut up, Scott dropped to one knee, bowed and begged the cop’s forgiveness.

Basically, Norberg was wacked out of his head.
But–and I want to nail this point, because Joe Arpaio has misrepresented it–Norberg was not high on crystal meth at the time of his death. He was transferred from Mesa to the county’s Madison Street Jail about midnight, and was killed 15 hours later. Medical examiners found no meth in his blood system–only in his urine.

Arpaio and his minions portrayed Norberg as a meth-crazed maniac with superhuman strength, hence the need for stun guns, the restraint chair, and 14 jailers beating the shit out of him.

Well, Arpaio either lied, or he’s an ignorant punk.
Meth in your urine and not your blood means the tweak’s already been processed by your body. The primary effects are gone (toxicologists have confirmed this in Norberg’s case). Scott wasn’t flying on meth in Madison Street, he was crashing. This explains his confused, lethargic behavior, and suggests his strength was anything but superhuman.

Throughout the day in the Horseshoe–and this is also on tape–whenever the jailers would order prisoners to line up and march, Norberg would shuffle the wrong way, or simply sit down and put his head between his knees. Guards started calling him “the Twilight Zone Man.”

Right before he was killed, Scott was sitting in a cell with about 30 other prisoners waiting to make court appearances (keep in mind that for all of Arpaio’s swaggering rhetoric about getting tough on criminals, he runs county jails, not penitentiaries. Most of the prisoners in his custody are being booked or awaiting trial; they are presumed innocent).

According to Manning’s settlement brief, this is what happened next:
“Scott was sitting on the floor just inside the doorway. His eyes were closed, and his head was bowed down. He appeared to be asleep. Jailer Kimbrough and then Musbach yelled Scott’s name, even though they both knew who he was.

“Scott did not respond to his name. Gurney reached down and grabbed his shoulder. Scott leaned forward slightly so that he could look behind him and see what was happening; then Gurney unleashed his attack upon Scott. Each of [almost 30] eyewitnesses, including a court clerk, has either testified or told MCSO detectives that Gurney attacked Scott, and that Scott did nothing to provoke the attack.

“Gurney claims Scott jumped up and turned around ‘menacingly’ when Gurney touched Scott’s shoulder. The jail surveillance footage, however, exposes Gurney’s lie. Although Scott is not visible because he is sitting just inside the door, the footage shows Gurney clearly bend over at the waist and rush in on Scott toward the floor.”

You already know what happened after that.
But you may not know that three months before Norberg was killed, the U.S. Department of Justice sent the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors a formal letter alerting the county that the abusive conditions and excessive force used inside the jails run by Joe Arpaio violated the Constitution.

You may not know that around the same time, Madison Street jailers gave similar treatment to a paraplegic named Richard Post, who had overflowed a toilet. They strapped Post into a restraint chair (which jailers used 600 times in a six-month period, including Norberg’s death) and broke Post’s neck, costing him the use of his right arm. Post’s lawsuit is still pending. (See story on page 22.)

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley fired up a criminal obstruction of justice investigation into the sheriff’s office’s handling of evidence in the Norberg case, but Romley passed the baton to the FBI because he said Arpaio was having him spied upon. The FBI is also conducting a criminal investigation into Norberg’s killing.

To Joe Arpaio and the jailers who killed Norberg, I offer a lyric from Rage Against the Machine’s track “Wake Up”:

“How long? Not long. Because what you reap is what you sow.”

Contact David Holthouse at his online address:

There are more things wrong in Arpaio’s jail that I can shake a stick at.

If you want to know more, Here is a short and bitter overview of just a fraction of the news produced by Maricopa’s Sheriffs Dept.

Sex sting went way too far


Imagine you are the mother of a mentally handicapped thirty-three-year-old-man. Your son functions on the level of a twelve-year-old boy.  His disability often causes him to act erratically, but you still hope that one day, he can lead a normal life.  One night in August, 2001, he is arrested on a misdemeanor loitering charge when he begins acting strangely in a convenience store.  When officers arrive to arrest him, he is clinging to the store’s coffee machine and won’t let go.  Four officers forcibly remove him from the store, handcuff him, and throw him to the ground to be hogtied. The force seems excessive, since your son is disabled and only weighs about a hundred and thirty pounds. A few minutes later, his limbs bound behind his tiny frame, officers load him into the squad car to take him away.  Before they pull away, your son asks you, like a little kid:

“Mom, will you ride in the car with me?”

“I can’t,” you tell him, “the police won’t let me.”

You figure that the police will probably hold your son overnight, and you head home to get some rest.

Two hours later, your son is dead.

Local coverage

Dog Day Afternoon

Sheriff Joe’s goons launched an assault to make a misdemeanor arrest. The Raid left a burned house, a terrified neighborhood and a dead dog


3 responses to “Not My Hero-Sheriff Joe Arpaio

  1. hazlee kemp

    Sheriff Joe is a real American Hero. Because of him me and my familiy are safer. He is doing the job our govenment and the fed should be doing.

  2. Apparently Hazlee can’t READ.

    BECAUSE OF SHERIFF JOE, LOTS OF PEOPLE HAVE BEEN MURDERED, no trial, judge, jury or RULE OF AMERICAN LAW for them, Hazlee. You ought to PRAY no one you love gets near his renegade employees by accident, as many have, you fool.

  3. Catherine Godwin

    Hazlee, you must be a very cold person. How can you possibly hear all of this and consider yourself safe? furthermore not consider these people or their families? I can tell you that all things that go around come around and I’ve watched God teach lessons in so many times. I pray that this is a lesson you won’t learn through a family member. It’s always harder to watch a family member be abused than to have it happen even to yourself. I hope you don’t have a son. BUT I get the feeling that, that it what it is going to take for you to understand this kind of cruelty. Karma is harsh.
    You sadden me and I feel sorry for you,
    Catherine Godwin

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