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Phoenix City Council Expected To Approve Settlement For 2011 Jail Death

The Phoenix City Council is expected to approve a $250,000 payment to settle a lawsuit over the 2011 death of a mentally ill man who was arrested by Phoenix police officers and later died in a jail run by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The victim in this case was Ernest Atencio who was arrested in December 2011 by Phoenix police on a misdemeanor assault charge. They say he frightened a woman by yelling at her and kicking at her apartment door.

Earlier in the day, Phoenix police had actually seen him, saying they observed him behaving really erratically and believed he was potentially mentally unstable

When they arrested him, they took him to county jail. At this point, lawsuit alleges, he was taunted, mistreated and physically abused by the police — which baited him into a physical altercation.

His lawyers have said he wasn't acting aggressively toward the officers while the sheriff's office had originally claimed Atencio was acting combative.

For their part in Atencio's death, the county has already paid $7 million as approved by the Board of Supervisors in March.

As previously mentioned, this was under former Sheriff Arpaio’s tenure and not the only time the department was subjected to a lawsuit.

According to records provided by the Board Of Supervisors, the county will now have paid out more than $90 million on legal fees and settlements for claims against the Sheriff’s Office during Arpaio’s tenure.

That figure includes legal fees and settlement related to the jail, which will now exceed $40 million, and an additional $50 million in other settlements and fees related to the Sheriff’s Office such as the actions of an officer in the field.

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.