PHOENIX (AP) — Lawyers have agreed to the proposed settlement of a lawsuit that alleged the death of a metro Phoenix jail inmate with mental illnesses was caused by stress he suffered when he mistakenly viewed jail officers' efforts to forcibly clothe him in a jail uniform as a rape attempt.
The proposal needs final approval from Maricopa County officials before the lawsuit by the estate of 36-year-old Eric Vogel can be concluded. The dollar amount and terms of the settlement were unavailable. The deal struck between the case's lawyers led to the cancellation of a Sept. 17 trial date.
"It took a long time, and I am grateful that, eventually, we were able to get it resolved," said Joel Robbins, an attorney representing the Vogel estate.
Jack MacIntyre, an aide to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, said the sheriff's office would have prevailed again at trial and explained that the settlement proposal was a move by the county's risk managers to limit legal costs. "They think that this is less than the cost of continuing this litigation," MacIntyre said.
The case was known for an appeals court's stinging criticism of Arpaio's signature policy of dressing inmates in pink underwear. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had said the pink underwear appears to be punishment without legal justification and that it's fair to infer that the selection of pink for underwear color was meant to symbolize the loss of prisoners' masculinity.
Early on in his nearly 22-year tenure as sheriff, Arpaio won points with voters for making inmates wear pink underwear, housing them in canvas tents during Phoenix's triple-digit summer heat and dressing them in old-time striped jail uniforms.
Arpaio's office has said it started dyeing the jail-issued underwear in the 1990s as a way to discourage inmates from taking home the undergarments after they were released from custody.
A jury ruled in favor of the sheriff's office in a 2010 trial, but the appeals court threw out the verdict and ordered a new trial.
The case centers on Vogel's refusal to get out of his street clothes after he was arrested in November 2001 for assaulting an officer who was responding to a burglary call.
A group of officers in one of Arpaio's jails stripped Vogel and put him in pink underwear and other prison clothing as he shouted that he was being raped. The lawsuit said Vogel believed he was going to be dressed as a woman so detention officers could rape him. The sheriff's office said the officers tried to assure Vogel that they weren't sexually attacking him.
The lawyer for Vogel's estate has said the officers didn't sexually assault Vogel and that his client didn't suffer injuries at the jail.
Vogel, who was determined by a counselor to have had paranoia and delusions, died about two weeks after his release from jail after he and his mother got in a minor car accident.
When the officer handling the accident told Vogel that he might be jailed on a warrant stemming from his previous struggle to wear jail clothes, Vogel panicked and ran several miles from the scene to his home. He died the next day, and medical examiners concluded the cause of death was a heart attack.
Vogel's attorney had been barred by a lower-court judge from calling Vogel's sister to testify about what he told her about the jail incident and his sense of humiliation stemming from the underwear.