Sheriff Joe Under Fire for Pink Underwear and Selling Meals

Posted March 11, 2013 in Litigation Your Personal Rights by

From forcing inmates – even obviously mentally ill ones – to wear pink underwear, to requiring them to pay for their food, Sheriff Joe Arpaio seems to be bent on finding new ways to humiliate people who are unfortunate enough to go to prison in Maricopa County, Ariz.


‘Pink Underwear’ Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court on March 4 refused to hear an appeal by Arpaio’s county in a case brought by the estate of an arrested schizophrenic man who died from heart failure after jailers forced him into the pink underwear Arpaio requires all inmates to wear.

Eric Vogel was reportedly arrested in November 2001 for assaulting a police officer who was responding to a burglary. After Vogel refused to take off his street clothes at the Maricopa County jail, officers forcibly stripped him and put him in the regulation pink underwear.

Joel Robbins

Vogel, who had been diagnosed as paranoid and psychotic, believed the officers were dressing him up in pink, like a woman, so they could rape him, according to the Vogel estate’s lawyer, Joel Robbins, of Robbins & Curtin in Phoenix. Ignoring his condition, they put him in restraints, and afterwards he hid for three days under his bed in the infirmary. 

Vogel died a few weeks later, after he and his mother were in a minor car accident. When the officer at the accident mentioned a warrant based on his previous struggle with the jail officers, Vogel fled in fear on foot to his home. He died the next day from cardiac arrhythmia.


‘Loss of Masculinity’ Noted

Vogel’s family sued Maricopa County and Sheriff Joe Arpaio personally, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Constitution. At trial, the judge told Vogel’s lawyer he couldn’t talk about “the color pink,” nor could he introduce Vogel’s own impressions of the struggle at the jail, Robbins tells The jury found in favor of the defendants in 2010. 

On appeal, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Vogel’s estate deserved a new trial because that evidence had been wrongly excluded. As a side note, the appellate court reportedly said, “Unexplained and undefended, the dress-out in pink appears to be punishment without legal justification.” It also inferred that Arpaio’s selection of pink symbolized the loss of prisoners’ masculinity.

“Sheriff Arpaio himself gave a speech in Texas in which he specifically stated that although he says that he uses pink underwear for the purpose of identifying jail underwear and keep it from being stolen, in fact, that is an excuse for the federal courts,” Robbins says. 

“[Arpaio] said that he does it because the inmates don’t like it, and then made a crack about how it might not be as bad in California,” Robbins continues. “The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office understands that the use of pink underwear is provocative.”

Vogel’s estate now gets another shot at convincing a jury that what happened to Vogel deserves to be remedied – by Arpaio himself. And while the sheriff’s pink underwear policy is not specifically on trial in Vogel’s case, the appeal has refocused national attention on his office’s policies.

“It would be foolish in the future when confronted with a mentally ill inmate who believed that he was being raped not to take him to the infirmary and have him sedated prior to forcibly changing him into pink underwear,” says Robbins.

“They probably would also be wise to have some white underwear around for inmates who were mentally ill and were having delusions that they were being changed for the purpose of a rape.”


No Free Lunch

And if humiliating mentally ill prisoners wasn’t enough, in March, Sheriff Joe also reportedly began charging inmates $1 per day for their meals. 

“Everybody else has to pay for their food, why should [inmates] get freebies?” Arpaio was quoted by news reports as saying. Any money they have on arrival at the jail will be taken and put towards their meals; after that runs out, the county will take money that family and friends put into the inmates’ jail accounts.

“Those who don’t have the money, come on, of course we’re still going to feed them,” Arpaio said, setting the stage for what could easily be the next legal battle over his controversial policies. He has already been sued over serving inmates rotten food and failing to give them basic medical care.

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