An Orleans Parish Prison deputy who had been ordered to subdue inmate Kerry Washington in five-point restraints testified Tuesday that jail officials restrained Washington’s ankles and wrists but had not yet fastened a strap around his chest when he suddenly stopped breathing.
“It was like he just gave up,” Sgt. James Tyler told Civil District Court Judge Tiffany Chase, who will rule at a later date whether Washington’s family deserves to receive compensation for his April 2006 death. Chase is hearing the case without a jury.
Washington’s wife sued Sheriff Marlin Gusman and two deputies she accused of mistreating her husband during his brief stay at OPP, where he was being held on a warrant for failing to appear in court, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
After fighting with other inmates, Washington was ordered into the restraints — which immobilize a person’s arms, legs and chest — to undergo a mental-health evaluation.
Tyler’s remarks, which came on the second and final day of the trial, contradicted assertions by the plaintiffs’ attorneys that a tightly applied chest strap might have been a contributing factor in Washington’s death.
Tyler offered a detailed account of the moments before Washington stopped breathing, saying the inmate had “tensed up” trying to avoid the restraints for several minutes before suddenly “slacking” off.
“He resisted us pretty much the entire time,” Tyler said. “We were all pretty tired from the incident.”
During cross-examination, Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft underscored Tyler’s limited on-the-job training in using five-point restraints and established the dangers of misapplying them. She noted the Sheriff’s Office had no formal policy in place at the time regarding use of the restraints.
The Sheriff’s Office no longer uses five-point restraints in the jail, but a Gusman spokesman has refused to say when or why the practice was abandoned.
No criminal charges were filed in Washington’s death.
The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office concluded he died from cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory insufficiency, excited delirium and “death during restraint.” A pathologist hired by Washington’s family challenged those findings in testimony Monday but said he could not determine a cause of death after conducting a second autopsy.
Chase also heard Tuesday from W. Lloyd Grafton, a law enforcement policy expert who reviewed the case and alleged that Washington’s constitutional rights were violated because deputies had failed to prevent him from being attacked by a group of inmates who got out of their cells. He said the jail should have corrected a well-known deficiency in the now-shuttered House of Detention that allowed inmates to easily pop open cell doors and roam about the tiers.
“That’s just almost unheard of,” Grafton said. “They were responsible for his security and well-being, and that was violated.”
Blake Arcuri, an attorney for Gusman, noted on cross-examination that neither of the pathologists who examined Washington concluded that his wounds from the jailhouse fracas contributed to his death.