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$20M claim filed in death of Arizona jail inmate


PHOENIX – The family of a man who died late last year while in custody in
a Maricopa County jail filed a $20 million notice of claim Friday against
Phoenix and the Sheriff’s Office, alleging police and detention officers used
excessive force against him.

Ernest “Marty” Atencio’s family is seeking $15 million from county agencies
and $5 million from Phoenix police in the claim, which is the precursor to a
lawsuit.

Sheriff’s officials said it was premature to comment on the claim, but would
consider making a statement “if a lawsuit should emerge.” Phoenix police
didn’t immediately returned calls Friday.

Atencio, 44, died Dec. 20, four days after his family took him off life support
following an altercation with police and detention officers in a county jail.

The Sheriff’s Office previously said Atencio was combative when Phoenix police
brought him to the downtown jail for booking on an assault charge Dec. 16.

Authorities said the Gulf War veteran was placed in a so-called “safe cell”
to calm down after fighting with deputies and he was found unresponsive 15
minutes later, even though he was being monitored by medical staff.

A county medical examiner’s report released late last month said Atencio died
of complications from cardiac arrest, but concluded the manner of death was
“undetermined.”

The claim states that at least one officer punched Atencio and broke the
inmate’s ribs as he drove his knee into Atencio’s torso. It claims that another
officer shocked Atencio with a stun gun six times, with several of those strikes
coming within inches of his heart.

The claim doesn’t request any damages from the medical examiner’s office, but
it does allege the office attempted to shield the county from liability by
failing to name a manner of death from one of the four descriptions: suicide,
homicide, natural causes or accidental.

Michael Manning, an attorney for Atencio’s family, said Atencio was in the Army
from 1988 until 1992 and served in Korea before being medically discharged for a
shoulder injury. He said Atencio was divorced, had three sons including two
still in their teens, and worked in his family’s real estate business.