'Combative' arrestee critical after being restrained during booking

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Ernest Atencio By Catherine Holland Ernest Atencio By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has released the name of the man who is in critical condition after getting into a fight with arresting officers while being booked into Maricopa County Jail early Friday morning.

Ernest M. Atencio, 44, was arrested after a woman called police to say she was afraid a man kicking at an apartment door at her complex was going to hurt her. The woman said when she turned to call police, the man followed her and confronted her in an aggressive manner, according to Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos. 

According to MCSO Deputy Director Jack MacIntyre, Atencio was extremely combative as officers tried to complete 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," MacIntyre said in a statement released Friday night.

It's not clear exactly what Atencio was doing nor what the officers' "defensive efforts" entailed.

"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," MacIntyre continued in his statement.

A safe cell allows for constant visual monitoring of an arrestee or inmate. Safe cells also are padded and contain no fixtures that an inmate can use to harm himself or others. MCSO Central Intake is equipped with 10 such cells.

When medical personnel checked on Atencio about 15 minutes after officers put him in the safe cell, they discovered he was unresponsive. The medics immediately started CPR.

Atencio, who was being booked on assault charges, was taken to a local hospital, where he remains in critical condition. His prognosis is not known.

MacIntyre says an investigation is under way.

Some misinformation posted on Facebook sparked a protest at the jail. Somebody posted that a Latino died at the jail due to "excessive force."

Protesters from Occupy Phoenix launched a demonstration based on that post. Activists said even though they were not sure exactly what happened, they have some concerns about what's happening at MCSO.

"I think this is really disheartening to see, especially since they just had the investigation with MCSO and all their civil-rights violations and the Constitutional-rights violation," said Sandra Borchers. "It hasn't even been a week since that investigation was finalized and we're already seeing these violations happening again, right here at Fourth Avenue Jail."

Deputies say Atencio, who is a U.S. citizen, was not mistreated.