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Tragic death in Florida jail spotlights negligence

Several violations of constitutional rights may have led to the tragic and wrongful death of a man in a Florida jail. The full extent of these violations and validity of reports are still under investigation, but the negligence and physical abuse exhibited in this case has been widely reported.

The victim of the abuse was a 62-year-old man visiting his brother in Florida. He was reportedly suffering from heart disease, emphysema, diverticulitis, depression and other conditions that forced him to be on several medications. After his doctor moved away earlier in the year, however, no one had been monitoring the side effects of the medications.

The man was arrested on two charges during his visit to Florida. Witnesses have said that he was experiencing mental deterioration and was simply disoriented and bewildered when he was arrested. However, there was no advanced physical or mental health screening for the man prior to putting him in jail. Despite his numerous health concerns, he was never given his medication.

It is reported that while he was jailed, the man was nonsensical and suffering mentally. Instead of attempting to help him, deputies repeatedly sprayed him with pepper spray. At the worst point, he was put in a restraining chair and could not move. The deputies then allegedly continued to spray him with the pepper spray.

The man went into respiratory distress and was taken to the hospital. His heart failed as a result of the stress experienced from his serious exposure to the pepper spray.

A number of the man's constitutional rights may have been violated in this situation. First, pepper spraying a mentally ill suspect is a violation, as is pepper spraying someone who is already restrained. This man was the tragic victim of a series of egregious violations which caused his death.

So far, none of the deputies involved in the homicide has been disciplined. The county sheriff's office has conducted an investigation, but found no wrongdoing on the part of any of the deputies. Florida State Attorney Stephen Russell reviewed the case and stated that while they have not cleared the deputies of any fault, the case could be better settled at the federal level.

We will be sure to follow up on any charges that are brought in this case. The use of extreme force and failure to provide medical treatment that caused this man's death should not go unpunished.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Death In The Devil's Chair: Florida Man's Pepper Spray Death Raises Questions About Jail Abuse," Radley Balko, Jan. 11, 2012

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