Widow receives $4M settlement in Lee jail pepper-spray death

Nicholas Christie

Nicholas Christie

— The widow of a mentally ill Ohio man who died after he was repeatedly pepper sprayed in the Lee County Jail settled her wrongful death lawsuit for $4 million, according to records released today.

The 2010 lawsuit filed by Joyce Christie against Sheriff Mike Scott, the jail's medical provider, several deputies and nurses was settled in February, but the settlement amount wasn't disclosed until today. The Daily News obtained the "release of all claims" after filing a request under the state public records law in February.

The 2009 death of Nicholas Christie gained worldwide headlines because he was restrained, naked, in a restraint chair while being doused 10 times over 43 hours with pepper spray, a spit hood over his head and mouth to prevent him from spitting at jailers. At the time, court records show he was pleading for mercy, saying he couldn't breathe, while also being deprived of water and not allowed to go to the bathroom.

The retired boilermaker suffered cardiac arrest and died on May 31, 2009.

Christie had traveled to Florida to visit his brother in Naples and stopped taking his medications, causing him to act erratically. He was asked to leave his brother's home and ended up at a North Fort Myers motel, where he was arrested on trespassing charges.

After his arrest, he was placed in a jail observation wing because he was loud. As he continued acting up, jailers sprayed him repeatedly, fogged his cell with the chemical and eventually restrained him in a chair. Meanwhile, Joyce Christie, not knowing what was going on, was pleading with authorities to take her mentally ill husband to a hospital.

He passed out and was rushed to Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers, where he died two days later. The Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a homicide and found the pepper spray was a contributing factor that led to heart and brain failure.

The State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute anyone, concluding Christie represented a threat and jailers didn't show a "reckless disregard" for his life. Scott refused to review jail policies after the investigations, but called the death "tragic."

The settlement in February came as the case was to head to trial. A month earlier, a judge handed down a 35-page ruling, denying the majority of defense attempts to dismiss Christie's claims.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled Christie could head to trial with claims of excessive force, assault and battery against deputies Daniel Falzone, Kurtis Calhoun, Dathan Pyle, Sgt. Mary DaRoss and nurses Maria Canete, Linda Sundo and Joan Winnie.

The judge refused to drop claims of assault and battery, failure to train, and negligent hiring, retention and supervision against Sheriff Mike Scott. He also allowed claims of deliberate indifference against the deputies and nurses, and let Christie proceed with medical negligence claims and allegations that Prison Health Services (now Corizon) and Scott had a policy or custom of committing similar acts.

The lawsuit originally listed 20 deputies and nurses, but others were dropped since the lawsuit was filed in July 2010.

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