About 48 hours before his lifeless body was found hanging by the neck from a blue rope tied to a pool table at his home, ex-MCSO deputy Ramon “Charley” Armendariz told a group of friends and neighbors that he was a planning a press conference where he would “expose the sheriff’s office,” for some unspecified misdeeds.
According to a recently released sheriff’s office report on Armendariz’s death, Armendariz made the announcement during a May 6 gathering last year at a neighbor’s house, where he publicly apologized for his arrest days before for drug possession.
He also told the assembled that he was going into rehab for a 60 day period following the press conference.
But immediately following this mea culpa, three of Armendariz’s friends told investigators that they went to Armendariz’s home with him, where Armendariz gave each of them bracelets to remember him by.
Also, Armendariz videotaped a suicide note, where he addressed his ex-partner Walter Canales, who recently had left him.
The MCSO has not released the videotape, but the report includes a reputed transcript of the tape.
In it, Armendariz thanks Canales for caring for him, and he asks to be cremated and for Canales to keep his ashes.
“Unfortunately, I’m at a point where I can’t save myself and I’m sorry,” Armendariz, 40, tells the camera, wearing the black Goonies T-shirt he would be discovered in just a couple of days later.
In the end, there was no press conference. Instead, when Armendariz failed to report to the county probation department to get the ankle monitor he was to wear while awaiting trial, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
When the MCSO went to pick Armendariz up at the house he rented near 31st Avenue and Thunderbird Road, the former deputy did not answer the door. The MCSO sent in a robot, which located his corpse next to a pool table near the home’s rear Arcadia doors.
The medical examiner’s judgment: suicide by hanging.
Armendariz’s arrest and death last year inadvertently revealed a world of corruption at the MCSO, one where it was commonplace to confiscate the IDs, wallets and other property of Latino detainees, and where, unbeknownst to the plaintiffs and the federal judge in the ACLU’s big civil rights case Melendres v. Arpaio, MCSO deputies had been recording their stops, videos that should have been turned over in Melendres before trial.
The discovery of hundreds of seized license plates, driver’s licenses, debit cards, and credit cards in Armendariz’s home, as well as hundreds of hours of videotaped traffic stops was initially portrayed by the MCSO as the work of one rogue cop.
But the MCSO ultimately admitted to federal Judge G. Murray Snow that the practice of videotaping stops had been widespread throughout the department, as had the improper seizure of IDs and other property.
These issues became part of the ongoing civil contempt proceedings against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and four of his current and former staff.
There has been much speculation about Armendariz’s demise, due in no small part that Armendariz implicated other MCSO deputies in wrongdoing after he was arrested for drug possession.
On May 1, Phoenix police were dispatched to Armendariz’s home on a burglary call, and found Armendariz wandering about in his underwear, hunting invisible intruders with a pepper ball gun.
Phoenix cops called the MCSO, turning the investigation over to them.
Illicit drugs — marijuana, heroin, meth, LSD — were in plain site in Armendariz’s garage, sometimes in MCSO evidence bags. The deputy was taken to a mental hospital for treatment and later resigned from the MCSO.
Days later he is arrested following a barricade situation at his home, but is released on the requirement that he report to probation and wear an ankle bracelet.
Armendariz had been a member of the MCSO’s now-defunct Human Smuggling Unit, where he worked in Arpaio’s infamous immigration sweeps. His participation in one such sweep and his encounter with two of the named plaintiffs in Melendres guaranteed that he would be called as a witness in the case’s 2012 civil trial.
As a result of that trial, Judge Snow found Arpaio and the MCSO guilty of racial profiling in 2013, and ordered a list of reforms for the sheriff’s office, to be overseen by his monitor, Robert Warshaw.
But the case has been plagued by regular discoveries of evidence that’s been withheld by the MCSO, despite Snow’s orders that all such evidence be turned over.
Most dramatically, Snow recently ordered that 1,500 IDs taken from Latinos by MCSO deputies be turned over to U.S. Marshals for safekeeping.
Armendariz’s arrest and suicide was the initial domino, which set the current contempt case in motion.
Arpaio and his Chief deputy Jerry Sheridan since have admitted to civil contempt, and may still face criminal contempt charges.
Questions have been raised as to how Armendariz could hang himself from a pool table.
According to MCSO investigators, Armendariz affixed one end of the rope to a pool table leg, stretched it over the table, wrapped the other end four times around his neck with a slip-knot, and let gravity do the rest.
“The neck and head were elevated by the rope about 6 inches to a foot above the wood floor,” reads the report. “The right arm was slightly bent and resting under the forehead on the wood floor. The left arm was bent partially under the torso and resting on the floor. The decedent was only wearing a black The Goonies T-shirt, red/blue Evolve underwear and a pair of black/gray Hanes ankle socks. Both legs were spread apart with both feet slightly turned toward the left. ”
The medical examiner’s report, which is included in the MCSO’s file, notes that the main trauma to the body is from the cord wrapped around Armendariz’s neck. A toxicology report said that Armendariz’s blood tested positive for methamphetamine.
The report also observed Armendariz had a history of mental problems.
“The decedent also was reported…to have been making suicidal statements, to have been hearing voices, and to have had relationship difficulties,” writes the coroner. “However, the decedant’s sister denies that the decedent had prior suicidal [ideas] or attempts.”
But according interviews of several witnesses in the report, including Armendariz’s ex-boyfriend Canales, Armendariz was on edge, erratic and suicidal in his last days.
The report states that Armendariz told one friend, a female MCSO detention officer, that he “was going to end it all by taking pills.”
He also told her that he “was not going to prison,” and agonized over losing his job and his boyfriend.
Armendariz also mentioned an incident involving “an MCSO explorer that he mentored.”
Apparently, the explorer had gotten sick after having dinner at Armendariz’s house.
The explorer ended up in the hospital, “and it was discovered that he had meth in his system.”
As a result, “The explorer’s mother immediately blamed Charley and said Charley put meth in his system.”
(According to a note in a report from the monitor to Judge Snow, the MCSO “determined that no crime had occurred” in reference to this incident with the explorer.)
The female detention officer was one of the friends who stayed with Armendariz as he made his goodbye tape.
Canales, who was not present for the videotaping of Armendariz’s goodbye message, told investigators that Armendariz had been acting unusual and was subject to delusions in the weeks prior to his suicide.
“In a telephone conversation, Armendariz frantically informed Walter that persons were inside their couch,” the report states. “Armendariz rambled, paranoid, about people watching him.”
One friend of Armendariz quoted the deputy as saying, variously: “I’m 40 years old and my career is over,” “My relationship has ended,” and “I’ve had a good life.”
Another friend who was present during the taping of the suicide video said he did not believe Armendariz would commit suicide, because he had threatened it before as a way of getting Canales to come back to him.
If the transcript of the tape is accurate, Armendariz does seem desperate and ready to end it all.
“I’m hurt, I’m broken and I’m unrepairable,” Armendariz says at one point.
Later, after telling Canales he loves him, Armendariz pleads with him:
“Avenge me, love me, don’t forget me.”