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Content Note: This article discusses torture by police resulting in the death of a mentally ill man.
As all too often happens, when a concerned family member contacted law enforcement about the safety and mental health status of 62-year-old Nick Christie, he didn’t receive the help he actually needed. In March of 2009, the retired boiler maker from Ohio was on a vacation to visit his brother, but his depression and mental health were taking a turn for the worse. His wife was very concerned, so she called the Lee County Sheriff Department, alerting them to his situation and begging them to take him to a local hospital to be assessed and medicated.
Christie was arrested for trespassing at the hotel where he was staying. He was reportedly disoriented and refused to leave when asked to (despite having paid for a room at the hotel). Once in police custody for this minor offense that the local cops already had a medical explanation for, he was stripped naked, tied to a chair, fitted with a “spit mask” and pepper sprayed ten times, despite being in need of medication. Christie reportedly begged for mercy, saying he couldn’t breathe. He was eventually transported to a hospital, where he suffered cardiac arrest and died two days later. His death was ruled a homicide, brought on by the stress of being restrained and tortured with pepper spray.
Unsurprisingly, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found (in less than a week) that there wasn’t enough evidence to bother investigating, end of story. The (now deceased) prosecutor who decided not to charge the officers, by the way, has a storied history of letting cops get away with murder. The local police department is allegedly one of the worst in the nation. According to the Huffington Post, in 2010, the year after Christie’s murder, the Lee County Sheriff’s Department had the highest rate of reported officer misconduct of any department of that size in the United States.
While the Christie family finally has the cold comfort of a sealed settlement, this likely means that no one will ever face charges, let alone be incarcerated and held responsible, for the death of Nick Christie. Other inmates even said the pepper spray used on him was applied so heavily it affected them as well, and that he was not allowed to wash the spray off. Instead, he was forced to sit in the chair with the mask on his face, inhaling the spray for six hours.
In a tragic turn of events, his wife Joyce had flown down to help, glad he was arrested. She believed he would be getting the help he needed. She was reportedly in the police station at the same time her husband was, pleading for him to receive medical care while he was being tortured to death in another room. When he was dying in the hospital, she was forced to post bond for him before she was allowed to see him, already too far gone for any final goodbyes.
In the end, the civil lawsuit that Joyce Christie brought against the Lee County Sheriff’s Office was settled out of court, and while details were not officially released, early reports indicated she was awarded $4 million. Of course, the officers who brutalized and murdered her husband will not be paying that (or even losing their jobs); those funds will be coming from Florida taxpayers, not the Sheriff’s Office’s budget.
For previous Ladybud articles about police brutality, click here.
Photo Credit: The Justice for Nick Christie Facebook page