PHOENIX -- A Phoenix man is on life support after being found unresponsive in a cell at the Fourth Avenue Jail on Friday.
Ernest "Marty" Atencio is brain dead and unlikely to make a recovery, according to attorney Michael Manning, who has been hired by Atencio's family.
Manning said two of Atencio's sons flew in from Minnesota on Monday to be by their father's side and be part of the decision about whether to take him off of life support.
Atencio, 44, was arrested by Phoenix police officers on Thursday night on assault charges and then taken to the jail.
Atencio's family is blaming Maricopa County Sheriff's Office jail employees for using excessive force.
MCSO tells a different story, and a statement by MCSO Deputy Director Jack MacIntyre painted Atencio as aggressive and violent toward officers.
MacIntyre said Atencio was brought in and "continued to be abusive with arresting officers during the booking process. Phoenix Police were forced to continue to use defensive efforts and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office staff assisted in restraining the individual."
MCSO says they then placed Atencio in a safe cell in an attempt to get him to "cease his combative efforts."
Atencio was found unresponsive in the safe cell 15 minutes later.
MCSO would not confirm whether a Taser was used, but Phoenix police issued their own statement on Monday, saying their preliminary investigation did not suggest any of their officers tased Atencio.
Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos said that Atencio did not struggle with Phoenix officers prior to getting to the jail.
"Once MCSO staff took custody of Mr. Atencio and placed him in a safe cell, our officers had no further involvement or contact with him," Martos wrote.
Manning, who has represented the families of half a dozen inmates who have died in county jails, said video surveillance tape will reveal what really happened.
"Let's have Sheriff Joe have a news conference and let's play that tape," Manning said. "It may be they did nothing wrong. I doubt it, but let's see that tape."
MCSO Sgt. Jesse Spurgin said the department does not have an anticipated date of release for the videotape.
Manning also said Atencio was bipolar but not on his medication at the time of his arrest. Because of Atencio's prior record, Manning says MCSO should have been well aware of his condition.
Two separate investigations are under way.
Full Statement from Maricopa County Sheriff's Office:
There was an incident (Friday) with a Phoenix Police arrestee who was never finalized and booked into a Maricopa County Sheriff's Office facility. Phoenix Police brought in an individual who was a United States citizen on charges of assault. He continued to be abusive with arresting officers during the booking process. Phoenix Police were forced to continue to use defensive efforts and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office staff assisted in restraining the individual and attempted to complete the booking process. Medical personnel advised Phoenix Police and Maricopa County Sheriff's Office staff to place the arrestee in a safe cell to continue the search process and attempt to get the individual to cease his combative efforts. While inside the safe cell, he was under medical visual observation by medical personnel. Approximately 15 minutes later medical personnel rechecked the arrestee and initiated CPR and other rescuscitive efforts. The arrestee was transported to a local hospital for additional treatment. The case is currently under investigation.
Full Statement from Phoenix Police Department:
On Thursday, December 15, 2011, just after 9 p.m., Phoenix Police officers were dispatched to the area of 2800 West Laurel Lane in Phoenix regarding a suspicious person. The caller, a resident of the area, advised our dispatcher a male individual was kicking at an apartment door at their complex. The victim caller also advised when she turned to call police, this individual followed her and confronted her in an aggressive manner. The victim caller believed she was in danger of being assaulted by this individual based on his actions however, the male suspect became distracted by a passing vehicle and began chasing it.
Officers arrived on scene and after speaking with the victim, arrested the male suspect who was identified as Ernest Atencio, a Hispanic male in his mid-forties. Ernest was transported by officers to the Phoenix Police Department's Jail Intake Center where he was processed to be booked into jail for assault.
After paperwork was completed and Mr. Atencio was processed, he was taken by Central Intake officers to the MCSO jail. We understand Mr. Atencio struggled with officers while going through the process at the MCSO facility. To date, we have not been provided with specific details as to our officers actions during this struggle, in part because we have not been provided any video of this struggle by MCSO.
We anticipate obtaining further information once MCSO completes their investigation. We understand, preliminarily, our officers did not tase this individual. Though we have not completed our investigation, we have no information at this time Mr. Atencio struggled with any of our officers prior to getting to the MCSO jail. We also understand, once MCSO staff took custody of Mr. Atencio and placed him in a safe cell, our officers had no further involvement or contact with him.