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Inmates Riot Over Conditions At ‘Tent City’

November 18, 1996

PHOENIX (AP) _ Hundreds of inmates upset about conditions in a ``tent city″ jail rioted Sunday, arming themselves with poles from their tents, setting fires and trapping 11 guards for nearly three hours.

The situation was resolved after the inmates spoke with Sheriff Joe Arpaio about their complaints of living in the tents, bad food and being assaulted by guards.

``Everything seems to be under control. I met with the little committee that they had formed,″ said Arpaio, the self-styled ``toughest sheriff in America″ known for hard-core tactics such the tent city, chain gangs and a ban on cigarettes and nudie magazines.

About 300 to 400 inmates were involved in the riot, which broke out at 1:50 p.m. and lasted until 4:45 p.m. At its peak, inmates tried to get at eight detention officers locked in the control tower, and trapped three more in the tent compound. Two of those were treated for minor injuries.

Thick black smoke poured out of a tool shed the inmates had set on fire earlier and windows were broken in the jail’s control tower.

Arpaio said the riot began with what he believed was one inmate assaulting another, and then grew because of general discontent and the fact that only three guards were trying to watch over 600 inmates.

The facility was in lockdown Sunday evening and some inmates were transferred to other jails. About two dozen officers in full riot gear and dozens of sheriff’s deputies surrounded the jail in the evening.

The sheriff said he would talk with the inmates, but would not likely make any changes.

``I’m not making any changes,″ he said. ``I will meet with their committee to hear their grievances, but those tents will always be up.″

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