State Ombudsman Bill Angrick has issued a report saying the restraint of an inmate in chair at the Scott County Jail for five consecutive hours was contrary to law and amounted to excessive force. Angrick says a review of jail documents and video showed that Lillian Slater spent a minimum of nearly seven hours in a restraint chair during her nine-hour stay at the jail on January 26, 2006, including the five-hour stretch.
Angrick says the jail’s policy calls for no more than four hours in a restraint chair and that’s also the chair manufacturer’s guidelines and Iowa municipal code which talks about reasonable use of a chair and guidelines for checking a person when they are in a chair. Angrick says jail reports indicated that Slater was restrained for her own safety after she yelled and banged her head against a wall.Slater told the Ombudsman she was yelling for medication and a doctor, which jail reports confirmed.
The Ombudsman recommended that the Scott County Jail consult with doctors before using a restraint chair on inmates with medical conditions and allow restrained inmates to be freed to eat and use the bathroom. Furthermore, the Ombudsman recommended a department review of policies. Angrick says the jail does have a policy, which he say is good as many jails don’t have a policy.
Angrick says he recommended that jailers undergo remedial training and they have agreed to do that. Sheriff Dennis Conard agreed to adopt all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations. However, the Scott County Attorney raised doubts about Slater’s credibility and called her complaint to the Ombudsman “an exaggerated and opportunistic ruse to seek remedial action.”
In response, the Ombudsman said that none of the credibility issues raised by County Attorney were corroborated by documented evidence provided by the Scott County Sheriff. Angrick says the Scott County case is just one that’s raising concern about the use of the restraint chairs.
Angrick says he currently has three cases of complaints of inappropriate use of restraint chairs, but he can’t say at this time which jails they are. Angrick says over the last couple of years there have been other instances where he found that the chairs had been use for inordinate amounts of time, or without improper monitoring. Angrick says the past history of complaints about restraint chairs impacted his decision to make a report on the Scott County case.
Angrick says he decided not to issue a report in the past cases, “but given that I’m starting to see that this is more frequently happening than we had expected or believe was appropriate, I thought it was necessary for me to make a public comment on this instance.” Angrick says this isn’t a call to get rid of the restraint chairs — it’s a call to use them properly.
“There can be a variety of reasons why individuals are acting out,” Angrick says, “and there is an appropriate time for the use of the restraint in a chair. And this is perhaps the start of a statement and education on the part of my office that to ensure that we know that there are expectations, that there are guidelines and we have policies that we should follow.” Copies of Angrick’s report are available from the Ombudsman’s website at ww.legis.state.ia.us/ombudsman.