Officers to be accountable for pepper spray death

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Law enforcement officers in Florida are finally facing charges in connection with the wrongful death of an Ohio man who was reportedly killed by pepper spray. The man, who had been behaving erratically, was picked up by authorities after his wife made a call about his questionable mental health. Instead of taking the man to a hospital, however, officers transported him to a holding cell for disorderly intoxication. The man’s harrowing ordeal and fatal injuries provide shocking insight into a poorly run law enforcement department that essentially tortured its suspects.

A judge has concluded that a sufficient amount of evidence exists to support relatives’ claims that the man was intentionally harmed during his stay at the Lee County Jail. The case, which is four years old, has been in limbo as evidence was analyzed by local judicial officials. A judge in the case decided earlier this year that the criminal case could proceed because officers were not attempting to maintain discipline, but rather were simply torturing the victim.

Photographs show the deplorable condition the man was in after he was subjected to multiple rounds of pepper spray. A lawsuit connected with the man’s death alleges that he was sprayed at least 10 times during a 48-hour period. Coroners’ reports from the scene show that the man was killed by poisoning from the active ingredient in the pepper spray. The man was kept naked for hours in a cell with a hood over his head.

Judges in the case expressed their disgust for the officers as they gave the go-ahead for the criminal trial. The approval for the criminal prosecution has allowed the widow’s wrongful death suit to proceed; it will reach a trial later this year. The woman’s wrongful death suit will seek financial compensation for emotional distress, pain and suffering and other claims, including the man’s medical care and funeral costs. She will also ostensibly seek to recover damages for her legal fees, as well as punitive damages designed to punish both the department and individual officers responsible for her husband’s death.

Source: My Fox Tampa Bay, “Pepper spray death headed for trial,” Doug Smith, Jan. 31, 2013.