Lee County jailers will not be charged in the March death of an inmate who was heavily pepper sprayed within a short period of time, including while he was restrained.
Nicholas Christie, 62, a retired boilermaker, was exposed to oleoresin capsicum, or pepper spray, more than 10 times in less than two days in custody.
He died at Gulf Coast Hospital on March 31. Medical examiners ruled his death a homicide.
Also on Wednesday, medical examiners released the cause in the December death of another Lee County inmate. James Gregory Kindred, 45, died of alcoholism and alcohol withdrawal syndrome, circumstances classified as “natural” by forensic pathologists.
Officials said timing of the announcements, both of which came Wednesday afternoon, was not coordinated.
Ken Cutler, an inmate housed with Christie at the time of his death, said the result of the investigation, as conveyed by a reporter, surprised him.
“It was excessive force, absolutely no question,” he said. “For someone to come out and say that’s not the way it happened is someone who didn’t listen to what we said.”
In a prepared statement, Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said he was satisfied by the review.
Detectives with Scott’s agency investigated Christie’s death and then forwarded their results to the State Attorney’s Office in August 2008. Kevin, L. Smith, chief investigator for the office, concluded that jailers were within policy guidelines for subduing the belligerent Christie.
“A review of the report indicates that inmate Christie presented physical, verbal and bodily fluid contamination threats to the jail staff during his incarceration,” Smith wrote.
Assistant State Attorney Dean R. Plattner stated in an accompanying memo that jailers had no intent to kill Christie and no “reckless disregard” for his life.
The jailers involved were not named in the document.
Nicholas DiCello, an Ohio attorney representing Christie’s widow, said the family was disappointed but is looking toward a federal inquiry, in addition to a possible civil suit.
“I’m not aware of any policy that allows (oleoresin capsicum) spray to be used for the 10th time after someone has been restrained to a chair,” he said.
An internal policy review conducted by the Sheriff’s Office after the death found no policies were broken and that the jailers didn’t need to be investigated, said agency spokesman Tony Schall.
Christie suffered from several medical problems, including an irregular heartbeat. A medical examiner’s report released after the death concluded Christie died from cardiac arrest due to shock caused by the chemical.
He arrived at the downtown Fort Myers jail on March 27, following an arrest for trespassing at a North Fort Myers motel.
Smith doesn’t describe how often Christie was exposed to the chemical, but he notes application was in the form of a spray and a fogger, which is used to hit a wide area with the chemical.
Christie’s last exposure to the chemical followed his restraint in a chair, Smith writes. After spraying him, jail staff placed a spit mask over Christie’s face, an effort Smith states was designed to protect staffers.
Cutler, the inmate, has said Christie was trying to spit the chemical out of his mouth, after a guard sprayed him directly in the face.
Minutes later, nurses found Christie’s breathing labored, and they moved him to a downstairs shower to decontaminate him.
At 1:30 p.m., Nicholas Christie’s oxygen levels were found to be low, and he was soon moved to the medical wing. He was still in the restraint chair.
At 2 p.m., nurses decided Christie needed to go to the hospital, and they called 911 at 2:11 p.m.
Two days later, Christie was pronounced dead.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office contracts with Prison Health Services for inmate medical care. A spokesman for the business could not be reached for comment.
Kindred’s death may come under review by the State Attorney’s Office, said Schall, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman. Samantha Syoen, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, said no investigation has been received by her office.