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New Methods Of Restraining Inmates Have Deadly Outcomes

On August 8, a grand jury in Oklahoma recommended no charges be brought against officers at the Caddo County Jail, where an inmate was pepper sprayed and put in a neck-hold by jailers until he died from strangulation.

The grand jury did, however, recommend changes to “improve jail safety.” Such changes include annual reviews, allowing administrators to monitor employee training progress, and “examining proper restraint training and improving policies that may be outdated.” County officials are said to be considering them.

Caddo County is not the only place looking to update and reform the way it “reduces harm” in jails and the community. In fact, the day after the grand jury announcement in Caddo, the Associated Press reported officials an hour and a half away in Oklahoma County had “a new way of handling violent, combative inmates.”

Oklahoma County had just purchased three “full body safety systems” known as The WRAP, which officials say will be used “as a last resort.” The local sheriff told reporters the devices are “designed to protect the inmate from harming themselves as well as to protect the employees.”

The WRAP restraining device is produced by Safe Restraints, Inc., which was founded by former sergeants with the Walnut Creek Police Department in California.

The company’s website boasts “no deaths or injuries in 20 years of use.” The WRAP system has customers at over 370 law enforcement agencies or branches in the US and 40 abroad.

The WRAP “restrains a person in a comfortable, seated upright position as recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).” It creates a “‘papoose effect’ – a position that has a calming effect for the subject,” the company explains. (You can watch a video of a company demonstration of the WRAP here.)

“Subjects restrained with The WRAP are not forced to lay face down, which is a more stressful position. The seated upright position is recognized as one of the safest positions for oxygen recovery while creating no pressure against the chest.”

The WRAP comes in two models and various sizes, and while pricing is not available on their website, the website Patrol Log reports it can cost law enforcement from “$795 to $845 depending on the included accessories.”

But reports of multiple inmate deaths involving the WRAP system call the reassurances of its harm reduction and calming effects into question.

46-year-old James Greer was killed in 2014 when BART transit police and officers from the Hayward Police Department attempted to subdue and restrain him using the WRAP. Greer was stopped by police after running red lights. He had been out buying lottery tickets, his family said.

In video published by the East Bay Times, Greer performs field sobriety tests for law enforcement, but “for a split second, he slowly steps away from officers,” who then surround him as he falls to the ground.

Police allege Greer was resisting arrest. On the video, officers restrain him and use Tasers as he yells, “What are you doing?” They place him in the WRAP system, and he goes limp. Greer was pronounced dead at the hospital roughly one hour after being pulled over. The attorney representing his case believes the WRAP system may have played a role in his death.

In June of this year, the mother of 42-year-old Eugene Jimerson, Jr., initiated a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Hayward and three of its police officers. According to the lawsuit, Jimerson Jr. was arrested on April 12, 2015 and placed in the WRAP device.

Jimerson was mentally ill and suffering from severe tachycardia (or a rapid heartbeat) at a shopping center. Police were dispatched to check on his welfare, and found him “sweating profusely and speaking nonsensically.” His heart was “beating dangerously fast but officers didn’t call for medical assistance.”

“Instead,” a report by KRON 4 reads, “Officer Russell Sharrock arrested Jimerson for being under the influence of narcotics, a misdemeanor, and at the Hayward City Jail Jimerson was denied admission due to his mental health history.” He was transferred to Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

The lawsuit explains Jimerson continued sweating and speaking nonsensically as he waited to be transferred to Santa Rita Jail, while staff and police officers stood by for at least ten minutes without offering medical assistance.

When it came time to leave, Jimerson was placed in the WRAP, “which compromised his ability to breathe and further stressed his already-taxed heart.” He had a heart attack and died in the back of the patrol car.

There have been other deaths in the East Bay in which the WRAP system was used. In 2015, Roy Nelson, Jr., died in the custody of Hayward Police. He was “being detained on a psychiatric hold and attempted to kick out the windows of a police car.” He was placed in the WRAP and later died. The coroner ruled his death was caused by “amphetamine intoxication associated with physical exertion.”

In 2013, Kayla Moore died in custody of the Berkeley Police under similar circumstances while being placed in the WRAP.

The WRAP system’s website contends it can be safely deployed against juvenile inmates. However, as Ozarks First reported in 2014, the State of Arkansas issued a cease and desist letter to a juvenile detention centers using the system.

After state juvenile ombudsmen Scott Tanner traveled to the Yell County Detention Center to experience the WRAP system first hand, he reported the device made breathing difficult and caused anxiety. He said it “presents a risk for head injury and violates state standards, which say any placement of juveniles must be therapeutic and not punitive.”

Tanner spoke to juvenile prisoners, who consistently described the WRAP as a form of torture. “I believe the manner in which the WRAP restraint is being used in your center creates significant liability,” the ombudsman wrote in his report.

“This is magnified by deficiencies in both policy and documentation. Based on my own experience in this restraint and interviews of youth similarly restrained, it is my opinion that the use of the WRAP restraint on youth is inappropriate,” he wrote.

The WRAP is by no means the only attempt to innovate and introduce “harm reduction” into the punitive model of our criminal justice system. As governments continue to fail to provide assistance and treatment to those with mental illness, disability or substance abuse issues, newer restraint techniques have begun to take shape across the nation, often with horrific consequences.

Still, the New York City Police Department takes the cake when it comes to improvising injurious uses of force and restraint, removing a step entirely by placing people in body bags upon arrest.

As Gothamist reported in May, the NYPD used body bags to make 122 arrests between January 1st and April 20th of this year—more than once a day.

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.