PHOENIX - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's appeal of a ruling that criticized a decision by his jail officers to force pink underwear onto a mentally ill inmate who erroneously believed jailers were trying to rape him.
The refusal by the court means the lawsuit by the estate of Eric Vogel is one step closer toward having a second trial.
Arpaio's office won the case at trial, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the verdict and called for a new trial in a ruling a year ago.
The 9th Circuit said dressing inmates in pink underwear -- a hallmark of Arpaio -- appeared to be punishment without legal justification and noted that it's fair to infer that the selection of pink as the underwear color was meant to symbolize the loss of prisoners' masculinity.
Arpaio aide Jack MacIntyre said the sheriff still has a request for the 9th Circuit to reconsider the ruling and he's confident of the agency's chances because it has the law on its side.
"The 9th Circuit decision that we have thus far hasn't changed law in this circuit," MacIntyre said. The 9th Circuit denied a similar reconsideration request in November.
Joel Robbins, a lawyer for Vogel's estate, said he believes the sheriff will try to bring the case before the Supreme Court again. "I don't believe the Supreme Court will waste its time hearing this appeal," Robbins said.
Early in his 20-year tenure as sheriff, Arpaio won points with voters for making inmates wear pink underwear, housing them in canvas tents during triple-digit summer heat, and dressing them in old-time striped jail uniforms.
Arpaio's attorneys wanted the nation's highest court to examine whether having pink boxers as part of the standard jail uniform can constitute punishment before a trial is held.
Vogel had refused to get out of his street clothes after he was arrested in 2001 for investigation of assaulting an officer who was responding to a burglary call. A group of officers in the jail stripped Vogel and put him in pink underwear and other prison clothing as he shouted that he was being raped.
A 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 be paranoid and psychotic, died less than a month later, after he and his mother got in a minor car accident. When an officer handling the accident told Vogel that he might be jailed on a warrant stemming from his previous struggle involving jail clothes, Vogel ran several miles from the scene back to his home.
He died the next day, and medical examiners concluded the cause was cardiac arrhythmia.