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Sheriff seeks to block interviews with parties in jail-beating lawsuit

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Sheriff seeks to block interviews with parties in jail-beating lawsuit

  • The sheriff’s motion for a gag order specifically mentions a Phoenix columnist who has reported extensively on the case.

March 28, 2003 — Attorneys for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio filed a motion Feb. 25 in federal court to prohibit anyone involved in a pending civil case against the Sheriff’s Office from speaking to the media.

The case involves a lawsuit brought against the sheriff’s office after the beating of Jefferson Davis McGee in May 2001 by Maricopa County Jail inmates who thought he had raped and murdered a child.

Phoenix New Times columnist Robert Nelson alleges that the motion, which he said mentions him by name several times, is intended to prevent him from gathering more information about the case.

“Witnesses have come to me with testimony that [the Sheriff’s department] wants to keep secret. They’re clearly just trying to keep me from being a part of the investigation,” Nelson said.

“The gag order is an attempt to stop the free flow of information that would allow us to know what actually happened,” Nelson said.

Attorneys for McGee filed a civil suit against the Sheriff’s office in April of 2002 for placing McGee in a harmful situation. Those accused of crimes against children are usually away from the general population of maximum-security inmates. McGee suffered severe injuries which required emergency surgery.

According to Nelson, records suggest that jail administrators may have placed McGee in the jail’s maximum security pod to invoke an involuntary confession.

“It’s like throwing someone in a tank to get him to talk,” Nelson said.

After reviewing jail videos of the incident and court documents, Nelson called for a federal criminal investigation of Arpaio for civil rights violations in a March 6 column.

McGee was accused of involvement in the rape and murder of 8-year-old Elizabeth Byrd. According to McGee’s attorney, Jason Lamm, the charges were dismissed shortly after the beating when the murderer came forward with a confession in May 2001.

(McGee v. Maricopa County) PC

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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