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Mentally Ill Prisoner Terrorized, Forced to Wear Pink Underwear by Arizona Jailers

In the world of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, safety and security demand that male prisoners wear pink underwear. Indeed, this is so important to Arpaio and his staff that detainees who refuse to change into pink underwear when ordered to do so are forcibly stripped by jail guards.

At least that’s what happened to Eric Vogel, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who had a violent altercation with Maricopa County jailers at the now-closed Madison Street Jail because he refused to wear pink underwear. He reportedly thought the guards were dressing him as a woman as a prelude to being gang-raped. Vogel, 36, died of a heart attack about a month later in December 2001, after he had been released and was in a state of depression over his treatment at the jail.

Vogel’s estate filed a wrongful death suit seeking $100,000 in damages. The complaint alleged that the failure on the part of Sheriff Arpaio and his staff to take into consideration Vogel’s mental illness and fear of wearing pink underwear constituted discrimination and deliberate indifference towards the mentally ill.

Unfortunately, the jury never got to hear any pink underwear-related testimony. In a pre-trial ruling that effectively gutted the plaintiff’s case, U.S. District Court Judge Earl Carroll sided with defense attorneys in excluding all such evidence. If that weren’t enough, Carroll also dismissed the wrongful death claim. Not surprisingly the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants following a week-long trial that ended on February 5, 2010. That it took the jury a day-and-a-half to reach a verdict was, perhaps, given Judge Carroll’s pre-trial rulings, a testament to the persuasive efforts of attorney Joel B. Robbins, who represented Vogel’s estate.

Said Robbins, “Maybe the pink underwear routine is kind of funny when it happens to a tough guy who beat up his wife or whatever.” On a more sobering note he added, “But Eric was absolutely terrified by this, and he was extremely seriously mentally ill. That’s not so funny.”

Nor is the fact that a prisoner apparently died to satisfy the whims of a sheriff and his staff who demand that detainees wear pink underwear. To add insult to Vogel’s death, costs of $11,885.66 were taxed against his estate. The case is currently on appeal. See: Wagner v. Maricopa County, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:07-cv-00819-PHX-EHC.

Source: Phoenix New Times

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Related legal case

Wagner v. Maricopa County