US Marijuana Party

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Use of restraint chairs under fire after mentally ill inmate's death

Stephen Hudak
Orlando Sentinel, FL

TAVARES -- Concerned about a sister who had struggled with drug abuse and mental illness, Dawn Edgar called from California two years ago to ask a favor of Lake County deputy sheriffs: Please check on my sister and her kids.

Edgar said she sought a "well-being" check because her 39-year-old sister, Denise Ossick, was leaving a bully of a boyfriend and suddenly couldn't be reached by phone.

She now regrets that call.

That same day, deputies found Ossick and a warrant for her arrest. She was wanted for skipping probation appointments and not paying fines levied against her for filing a false police report. Deputies arrested her and -- after she struggled with corrections officers at the jail -- strapped her into a chair used to restrain unruly prisoners.

An hour later, Ossick was brain dead. She was accidentally choked on a strap that had been "negligently secured" around her, according to a newly filed lawsuit on behalf of her three children.

"They were supposed to make sure she was safe," said Edgar, 36.

The lawsuit challenges the use of a restraint chair, which is widely used in Central Florida, though county jail and state corrections officials are split on its value.

Osceola County stopped using them after a handcuffed inmate was beaten to death in one in 1997 by a corrections officer, who was later convicted of manslaughter. But jails in Lake, Orange, Volusia and Brevard counties use them regularly.

"It's been a valuable tool for us," said Michael Brickner, accreditation manager for the Brevard County Jail, which used restraint chairs to control inmates 112 times last year.


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