Citing advice from the Pima County Attorney’s Office, Sheriff Chris Nanos has reversed his decision to attend Arizona Luminaria’s April 19 community panel on the deaths, dangers, staffing shortages and other issues at the Pima County jail.

Nanos originally responded in an email to a March 15 invitation from Arizona Luminaria to participate in the public event, writing, “I’ll be there.” Days later, Nanos confirmed in person, at a March 17 commission meeting to study building a new jail, that he would attend and take questions from the community.

On April 14, five days before the panel, Nanos’s executive assistant wrote to Arizona Luminaria reporter John Washington, canceling the sheriff’s appearance.

“The Sheriff was expected to attend the AZ Luminaria Jail Deaths Panel forum on April 19, 2023; however, on the advice of the Pima County Attorney’s Office – Civil Division he cannot attend.”    

Nanos’s assistant directed any questions to Sam Brown, the Pima County attorney chief civil deputy.

When contacted for a response to why the Pima County Attorney’s Office counseled the sheriff against attending, Shawndrea Thomas, the director of communications, wrote back: “Sheriff Nanos made his own decision to not attend the Arizona Luminaria event. As his counsel, we advised him about issues related to pending or future litigation.”

Multiple families of people who have died in the jail are currently suing Pima County agencies and officials, including Nanos and individual guards, as well as NaphCare, which manages healthcare in the jail.

“He was never told to not attend the event; it was a recommendation,” Thomas wrote.

Arizona Luminaria contacted Nanos on Thursday, April 17 for clarification. The sheriff immediately responded, copying Pima County Attorney Laura Conover. 

Pima County Attorney Laura Conover

In a two-sentence email, Nanos wrote in full: “On the advice of legal counsel (the CAO) I will not attend the upcoming event. I cannot be any clearer…” 

Arizona Luminaria will keep the invitation to the sheriff open, and has asked Nanos if another sheriff’s department official could attend in his place to address questions from the public. 

Conover or a representative of her choosing from the attorney’s office also were invited to the panel, following Nanos’ cancellation.

As of April 18, there has been no response from either county agency.

Democrats Nanos and Conover are both up for reelection in 2024.

The event will continue as planned. It’s an opportunity for the community to gather and discuss concerns about the jail, learn how or if officials are addressing the high death rate, and about other serious complaints of mistreatment in the jail. The conversation will include solutions for how the public can engage in this issue, as well as seek transparency and accountability.

Frances Guzman, the mother of Cruz Patino Jr, who died shortly after being transferred from the jail to a hospital on August 3, 2021, will be on the panel to speak about advocating for changes to protect the lives of people incarcerated in the jail.

The panel also will include:

  • Jared Keenan, the legal director of ACLU Arizona, an expert in prisons and jails, with a recent focus on the lawsuit involving medical neglect in Arizona state prisons
  • Arizona Luminaria reporter John Washington, an investigative reporter with experience covering criminal justice systems.

Executive Editor Dianna Náñez will moderate the discussion. 

Tickets are free. Register here to join us on Wednesday, April 19 at 5 p.m. 

John Washington

John Washington is an investigative journalist based in Tucson with a focus on immigration and borders, as well as criminal justice and literature. His first book, "The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum...