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Oklahoma County Settles Suit over Excessive Use of Restraint Chair for $200,000

On May 20, 2014, Bryan County, Oklahoma agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by a former Bryan County Jail prisoner over maltreatment, including placing him in a restraint chair multiple times for days at a time and using pepper spray and a Taser on him while restrained.

Thomas Cofer had a long history of serious mental health issues including bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder. This made him a difficult prisoner to deal with.

Cofer was arrested and booked into the jail. While he was at the jail, he often did not receive the medication he was prescribed. This caused his behavior to deteriorate such that he shouted abusive language at guards, was hostile and combative, and twice attempted suicide. He was also allegedly subject to abusive treatment at the hands of guards.

Aided by Tulsa attorneys Stanley D. Monroe and Kirsten L. Palfreyman, Cofer filed a federal civil rights suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging his abusive treatment at the jail violated his constitutional rights. According to court documents, Cofer was repeatedly placed in a restraint chair for days at a time, far exceeding the maximum time allowed by jail policy or recommended by the manufacturer.  While in the chair, he was repeatedly denied restroom breaks and forced to sit for extended periods in his own urine. He was also tasered and sprayed with pepper spray while restrained, allegedly pursuant to orders by jail Lt. Kevin Holt. Cofer pleaded guilty to assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and first degree robbery just to get away from the jail by being transferred to the prison system.

The defendants settled the lawsuit for $200,000. A state court also reversed the convictions after determining that they were involuntary because the conditions described above--which the court found had occurred--coerced Cofer into pleading guilty to escape maltreatment at the jail. That court noted that one unnamed jail employee was charged and prosecuted for mistreating prisoners, including Cofer. See: Cofer v. Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County, Oklahoma, U.S.D.C. E.D. Okla., Case No. CF-10-195.

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Related legal case

Cofer v. Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County