“You could tell immediately there was something wrong with the guy,” said jail prisoner Ken Cutler, who was housed in a cell close to Christie. “He didn’t know where he was.” Guards repeatedly pepper sprayed Christie, then restrained him in a chair and put a spit mask on him.
“While he was sitting in the chair, they sprayed him two more times,” recalled Cutler. “This guy sat in the restraint chair, which seemed like over an hour, and his whole head was turning purple and almost blue.... He was gasping.” Christie, who complained of chest pains, was taken to a hospital where he died two days later.
His death certificate listed brain damage caused by lack of oxygen after a cardiac arrest, low blood pressure due to heart failure, and stress from the restraint and pepper spray as causes of death. A Deputy Chief Medical Examiner re-ported Christie’s death as a homicide but noted that was a medical, not legal, term.
Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Larry King pledged the jail would conduct a thorough investigation. “Deaths at our jail are very rare,” he said. “Certainly it’s uncommon.”
Yet while deaths may be uncommon, the use of force by guards is not. Jail logs revealed an 85 percent increase in use-of-force incidents over the past three years, up from 596 in 2005 to 1,104 in 2008. “We’re going to pursue this all the way,” said Nick DiCello, a lawyer who represents Christie’s widow, Joyce. “She wants justice for her husband.”
The U.S. Dept. of Justice, which announced an investigation into Christie’s death in August 2009, will be pursuing it, too. The federal inquiry will be conducted separately from a concurrent investigation by the Sheriff’s Office, which failed to notify the State Attorney of Christie’s death for over a month.
Christie had been arrested for trespassing at a hotel after he stopped taking anti-anxiety medication and began be-having erratically.
Sources: news-press.com, www.mnaplesnews.com
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