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Maricopa County Pays $300,000 to Settle Lawsuit Over Arpaio-Era Prisoner Death

by Matt Clarke

On November 23, 2018, Maricopa County, Arizona agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit over the death of a prisoner at the Maricopa County Jail while self-styled “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio was still in office.

Anthony Singleton, 27, was arrested on October 21, 2015. He had a history of seizures caused by withdrawal from opiates and alcohol. During his incarceration at the jail, he experienced multiple seizures and asked for medical care, but staff ignored his requests, saying he was “faking.” Singleton became delirious and “started coughing up blood,” yet still received no medical care. On November 2, 2015, he complained of abdominal pain and was taken to the medical unit where he reported a burning sensation in his stomach and “vomiting bloody, foamy material.” A non-urgent X-ray was ordered but never taken.

Two days later, Singleton was found in his cell, kneeling with his head on his bunk and unresponsive. “There was bloody emesis and black tarry stools noted on the floor of his cell and blood was draining from Mr. Singleton’s nose.” He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

With the aid of Phoenix attorneys Joel B. Robbins and Anne E. Findling, Singleton’s mother filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County and then-Sheriff Arpaio on behalf of Singleton’s children, who were three, six and eight years old at the time of his death.

The county opted to settle the case for $300,000, consisting of a $150,000 lump-sum payment that included attorney fees plus four periodic payments to the children after they turn 18, totaling another $150,000.

“Anthony Singleton’s death is a tragedy,” said county spokesman Fields Moseley. “Maricopa County and its Board of Supervisors hope this settlement allows his family to move forward and the county to continue focusing on improving its complex jail system that sees approximately 100,000 people every year.”

That is basically what the county has been saying for over a decade. Yet the settlement in the Singleton case was the latest in a series of lawsuits over jail deaths and injuries during Arpaio’s administration. Previous settlements ranged between $2 million and $9 million, most of which have been reported in PLN.

The last such settlement, for $7.25 million, occurred in March 2018. It was paid to the family of Ernest Atencio, 44, who died at the Maricopa County Jail after deputies allegedly punched and tased him for refusing to take off one of his shoes. [See: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.38].

This history of multi-million-dollar settlements and repeated prisoner abuse makes it doubtful that the county will focus on improving its jail system after a mere $300,000 payout. Rather, it seems more likely that the county settled the case so it could walk away from causing a prisoner’s needless death without admitting guilt, and for a relatively small amount in comparison to other lawsuits. See: Kramer v. Penzone, Maricopa Co. Superior Court (AZ), Case No. 2016CV-016687.

According to September 2019 news reports, Joe Arpaio, now 87, plans to run for sheriff in Maricopa County again despite a controversial career that, as reported by the Associated Press, has included “$147 million in taxpayer-funded legal bills, a failure to investigate more than 400 sex-crimes complaints made to his office, a 2013 racial profiling verdict that discredited his immigration patrols and his own conviction.”

That conviction – for criminal contempt for failing to comply with a federal district court order to stop racial profiling by the sheriff’s office – resulted in President Trump pardoning Arpaio in 2017. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.42]. 

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Additional sources: azcentral.com, Associated Press

Related legal case

Kramer v. Penzone