Torture, Or Justified Use Of Restraint And Force?

Torture, Or Justified Use Of Restraint And Force?

Nick Christie, a 62-year-old Florida tourist, is not confined in Gitmo. He’s not in a secret CIA prison. He’s not being held by terrorists. He was, however, at the time the photo above was taken, being tortured. At least that’s what Christie’s wife claims. And clearly the man was bound, gagged, and in a lot of distress. And yes, that is pepper spray running down the center of Christie’s nude body.

So who held and tortured Nick Christie? Who stripped him of all his clothing and then restrained him to a chair? And who, after the man was clearly in no position to harm anyone, including himself, would cast aside common sense and excessively douse Christie with an exaggerated amount of pepper spray? Oddly, strangely, and shockingly, it was sheriff’s deputies who placed Nick Christie in the position you see in the photo above. And shortly after the photo was taken, Nick Christie died. A Florida medical examiner in charge of Christie’s autopsy ruled his death a homicide.

But no deputy was charged with Christie’s death. In fact, not a single deputy was even disciplined, which means an internal Lee County, Florida investigation found that jail officers acted properly and that the techniques they used when dealing with Christie were proper.

Sure, Christie was drunk and disorderly when arrested. And I’m the first to say drunks are a pain in the tush to contend with, especially when they’re non-compliant. And yes, I’m sure he’d become a real problem for jail staff. I’ve worked in a jail so I know and understand how trying and troubling it can be when prisoners are loud, abusive, destructive, and combative. Deputies absolutely must maintain control in order to, well, maintain control. And there are times when pepper spray must be used. Tasers and other devices as well. And one such device is a restraint chair, which, by the way, was used to help control Christie.

One thing Lee County jail deputies didn’t take into account was that Christie had a pretty serious medical history, a history of both mental and physical troubles. He was taking medication for depression, and he suffered from COPD and emphysema. Obviously, the man experienced trouble taking a normal breath of air, in the best of conditions.

Well, when Christie began whatever it was he did inside the jail that caused deputies to feel the need to restrain him, staff members did indeed place Christie in a restraint chair. They stripped him naked and strapped him to the device you’ll see in a photo below. I took this picture a couple of years ago to show one of the tools that’s available to help maintain control of out-of-control prisoners. However, once the prisoner is “attached” to the chair the threat he presented to himself and others is over. He can no longer do harm to anyone.

But in Christie’s case, according to news reports, deputies also sprayed the helpless man with copious amounts of pepper spray while he was restrained in the “the chair.” They also placed a spit hood over the lower half of his face, even while he begged them to take it off because he couldn’t breathe. But deputies left the hood in place and continued to pepper spray him—8 to 10 times, depending on whose story you hear. They also “fogged” Christie’s cell with pepper spray. So much of it was used in the foggings that it began to affect inmates in other areas of the jail.

The purpose of pepper spray, by the way, is to temporarily incapacitate someone until officers can restrain them. It is not intended to be used to make someone stop yelling, talking, spitting, singing, arguing, name-calling, etc. There is no other intended use for pepper spray. None. The spray should never be used as a means to punish someone. And I say this as a former police defensive tactics instructor who was certified to train officers in the use of pepper spray and in the use of force.

The same is true for a restraint chair. The device is not to be used for punishment, or for long periods of time. Speaking of the chair…

Prison and jail officers often encounter extremely violent inmates who are a serious threat to themselves, staff, and other inmates. In these situations, normal restraining devices—handcuffs, waist chains, and leg irons—are simply not enough to properly subdue the unruly prisoner. One effective means to safely restrain and transport combative prisoners is to utilize a restraint chair.

Restraint chairs completely immobilize the prisoner’s torso and limbs. Special attachments can also limit head movement. Once the inmate is securely fastened to the chair he can be wheeled (the chair is designed to tilt back on two rear wheels similar to a furniture dolly) to desired destinations, such as the medical department, court hearings, segregation and other areas, such as the special housing unit (SHU).

Again, under no circumstances should restraint chairs be used as a means of punishment. Also, prisoners should not be left seated in a restraint chair for more than two hours.

I’m guessing the civil trial regarding the wrongful death of Nick Christie will be more than interesting, especially since a jail deputy, Monshay Gibbs, has already testified under oath that she believed the way Christie was treated was excessive. Gibbs also said she heard Christie pleading with staff members to take off the mask because he couldn’t breathe.

Of course, the fact that Christie was received into the ER with pepper spray still coating his chest is a pretty damning picture as well. By the way, once someone is sprayed with pepper spray, it is the responsibility and duty of officials to seek treatment and relief for the effects of the spray on their prisoner. To leave someone exposed to the spray for a long period of time is…well, what do you think? Is it torture? Take another look at the photo.

Torture, or no?

Fox News photo

*By the way, since I was not present during the incarceration and restraint of Mr. Christie I can only offer a report based on news stories, videos, and, well, the photo above. I cannot say one way or another if there was any wrongdoing on the part of any official or by Mr. Christie. That will be for the courts to decide.

11 replies
  1. Jean Lamb
    Jean Lamb says:

    Sounds like they wanted a bit of fun that day–in Portland, Oregon, he would have just been shot (and the grand jury would have cleared the cops, the way they did when the cops beat a mentally ill guy to death).

  2. MJM
    MJM says:

    Wow…I’ve worked in a jail. I’ve never seen an inmate stripped of clothing unless he was suicidal. But, I would guess he was in Book-in and getting changed over when this happened.

    And I’ve never seen a “spit hood” used in that manner. It does seem restrictive. Possibly they put it that way so that he could “breathe” through his nose. I imagine his nose was pretty congested and mucousy from a histamine response to the pepper spray.

    After three to four sprays to an inmate, we had to move them to a different cell, treat their skin and eyes and give them a change of clothing when they were unrestrained.

    Also the restraints and status of inmate checked every few minutes (can’t remember exactly, but certainly at least every 10-15 and they were one-on-one constant visual observation.)

    Yes, I would hate to be the Medical person in charge of reporting to the state on that case…

    The Medical personnel in our jail were responsible for notifying CO’s if the inmate had any respiratory issues.

    I can see that he probably wasn’t booked in properly and they had difficulty right from the beginning getting a medical history from him.

    Tragic. You would think someone in a chair wouldn’t need to be sprayed. But, I’ve seen inmates bang their heads and attempt to knock the chairs over. We’ve had them in helmets and spit hoods and they were still unruly.


  3. Jenny Milchman
    Jenny Milchman says:

    I have experienced similar need-to-restrain as a psychiatric ER employee, and I do understand the threats that can be posed. But as described, this treatment seems retaliatory not inhibitory, and so like you I suspect there will be a successful civil suit. Of course, that won’t bring back Ms. Christie’s husband.

  4. Wally Lind
    Wally Lind says:

    This should be an FBI deprivation of civil rights investigation. Why was the sheriff allowed to leave with an internal investigation?

  5. Samantha Navrro
    Samantha Navrro says:

    I feel sorry for officers when they get in trouble for throwing a combative person to the ground. And yes they are super strict in jails and prisons. that is because they are out-numbered and they can’t allow themselves to look weak, or they would be overthrown.
    But once a person is in a restraint chair they are no longer posing a threat. Maybe Mr. Christie made a comment about an officer’s mother? Well if you can’t brush off hateful comments, you should not work in a jail house, something like 80% of those criminals are going to be drunk/high and belligerent.
    I feel bad for Mr. Christie and his wife. You should only be fogged if you are in an area like a house and refusing to come out. And yeah, the cops are supposed to wash people off after they have sprayed them and have them under control. Incidents like these are why kids are scared of cops, and is why people don’t trust cops, because of a few idiots who let the power go to their heads.

  6. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Wow. I kept expecting you to deliver a punchline-that Mr. Christie had singular knowledge of the whereabouts of a child or a bomb or some other imminent threat, making your question harder. Drunk and disorderly?
    I’m reminded of a discussion at the WPA a couple of years ago-how anyone, given the right circumstances, is capable of murder. The most disturbing thing here is a seeming ‘mob mentality.’ I can’t help but think that had only one or two deputies taken part they would have been stopped by their fellow deputies.
    Jeez Lee, you come up with some intense stuff.

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