Article — From the April 2001 issue

Star of Justice

On the job with America’s Toughest Sheriff

You are a citizen of the county protected by America’s Toughest Sheriff.

Your name is Richard Post. You’re paraplegic, but you’ve made the best of what you have. Your legs are useless, but your arms are powerful. At age thirty-five, you’ve bought a home, raised a kid, and you’re studying for a college degree. You have a life. Then, in one night, most of it is taken away from you.

It happens ten years after the car accident that put you in the wheelchair. It’s the night of St. Patrick’s Day, 1996, and you’re at home in Phoenix, Arizona, watching Mike Tyson destroy Frank Bruno, the crystal-chinned English heavy-weight. After the fight, you feel like going out. So you head for an Irish pub named O’Connor’s.

The atmosphere is cordial, and in the space of an hour you have two drinks. There’s a folkie providing live music. As he finishes a song, you wheel yourself over to him and tell him the results of the fight. He announces it, expecting that the Irish-American patrons will be pleased to hear that Bruno lost. Some people cheer and some people boo.

You hang out for a while, chat with some people. An older guy comes up to you and says, “Why don’t you get the hell out of here?’”

You don’t understand what his problem is. “Why, did you bet on the Englishman?” you ask.

“I’m calling the police,” he tells you and walks away.

You think he’s kidding, so you don’t worry. But he means it. His name is James O’Connor, and he owns the pub. He calls the cops, then comes back and tells you they’re on their way.

You still don’t get it. But if the cops really are coming, you don’t want them to stop you on the road, since you’ve been drinking. So you decide to wait for them and talk to them in the bar.

The cops who arrive are named Jeffrey Howell and James Ray. In their report, they will claim that the owner of the bar said that you were drinking heavily and that you called him “a Protestant and an Englishman.” They will describe you as “extremely intoxicated.” But the owner will deny this and will insist that you weren’t drunk. He will claim that he called the cops because you were bothering his customers. He has been drinking as well.

The cops tell you to take a taxi home or they’ll take you to jail. You refuse, and say you’ll just roll yourself home in your wheelchair. The cops arrest you. They will say later that you challenged them to arrest you. You will say that you wouldn’t do such a thing, knowing that you were carrying some pot in your backpack. They search you and find the pot, all 1.1 grams of it. They take you to the Madison Street Jail, in downtown Phoenix.

There’s a videotape of you being searched and booked into jail. On the tape, you seem lucid and co-operative, not giving the jailers any attitude at all. The tape shows you explaining to them that the urine bag attached to your ankle is full. Unless you empty the bag and get an internal catheter, you won’t be able to piss. And you need to.

“This is a jail, not a hospital,” you’re told.

You get to see a nurse, and you tell her you have special needs. “Do you have a MedicAlert bracelet?” she asks you.

“I’m in a wheelchair,” you tell her.

Your bladder hurts, and you’re scared. Paraplegics are very susceptible to kidney disease caused by unsanitary and infrequent urination. As you’re rolled to your cell, a jailer says, “There’s a big difference between what you need and what you get in here. Don’t be a baby.”

They leave you in the cell. You keep trying to get their attention, to try to explain that you need a catheter, but they just tell you to shut up. You bang on the cell door for a while, but nothing happens.

You decide to empty your urine bag, and then try to make yourself piss by manipulating your abdomen with your hands. But you can’t reach the toilet. You accidentally knock a roll of toilet paper into the bowl, and that gives you an idea.

You start flushing the toilet. You do it again and again. It fills with water.

A guard tells you he’ll turn off the water unless you stop. You don’t stop. You tell them again that you need a catheter. Water spills out of the toilet, over the floor, out into the hall.

Sergeant Steve Kenner responds. But he doesn’t bring you a catheter. He has you put in a restraint chair instead. You tell him you need a pad to sit on or you’ll develop sores that might need surgery. “Too bad,” he tells you. The nurse takes a look and says you need a pad. Kenner says they have to clean up the water first because it’s a safety hazard. They could just move the restraint chair away from the water, but they don’t.

They leave you like that for two hours. When they finally put the pad in place, Kenner sparks a stun gun close to your head, then hands it to his partner. “Hit that fucker if he moves,” he tells his partner.

They loosen the straps a little, shove the pad halfway under your buttocks. Then Kenner pulls the straps so tight that they compress your spine.

They leave you like that for six hours. In that time, your anus becomes ulcerated. You’re bedridden for four months. Doctors consider giving you a temporary colostomy. You have to drop out of college. You lose feeling in your right arm. It withers and becomes thin. You can’t raise it above your shoulder. You can’t write with it. And there is a numbness in your left hand.

A doctor tells you he must operate on your neck. He asks you how the damage happened. You tell him, and he changes his mind. He says he knows there’s going to be litigation, and he wants nothing to do with it.

You plead with him. “All I want is for you to fix me.” You tell him you don’t want him to testify on your behalf. He’s apologetic but firm. He wants nothing to do with you.

You were luckier than many. You left the jail alive.

You are a citizen of the county protected by America’s Toughest Sheriff.

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is the author of five books, including <em>Before</em> and <em>The Book of Man.</em>

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