CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NBC Charlotte I-Team has tough questions about a deadly device.
Two inmates died in the same restraint chair in the York County Jail, and the sheriff refuses to answer our questions about both cases.
I-Team reporter Stuart Watson unearthed video used in court in the first case, which may be considered disturbing. It’s also a case that cost taxpayers a million dollars.
“I said they were going to kill him,” Jeanne Waddell said. Her son Jeff died in the restraint chair in the Moss Detention Center in May of 2006.
She remembers him in better days as young and clean-cut – a son with mental health troubles, but with promise.
Jeff died in May 2006, strapped in a restraint chair in the custody of the York County sheriff. He was vomiting from seizures with no on there to help.
“He seized continuously in the chair until he died,” Jeanne said. “I think people who have medical conditions shouldn’t be in that kind of restraint.”
Jeff suffered from epilepsy that gave him seizures, and the jailers knew it.
“I think epilepsy is frightening for some people because they don’t understand,” Jeff’s mom explains.
But when he began vomiting -- in restraints, alone in a cell – no cleared his airway. No one got him out of the chair. No one helped him breathe.
“That’s when you get fluid down in the lungs and suffocate,” Jeanne’s lawyer Robert Phillips said.
“He choked to death on his own vomit?” – SW
“That’s exactly right.” – RP
Phillips sued the York County sheriff. The state paid a $930,000 settlement to take care of Jeff’s young daughter, but Jeanne wants something more.
“I hope we learn, and I hope we make some changes,” she said.
At issue now is whether York County jailers are using the chair not as a restraint, but as punishment.
Says Phillips, “He certainly didn’t need to be there for two hours. Nobody needs to be in that chair for two hours.”
But just last month, a violently mentally ill inmate died in the chair. Joshua Grose was accused of running over and murdering his mother and a neighbor woman. He died early one Sunday morning in the same restraints.
“They have power and they can get away with this stuff,” Jeanne said of the situation.
Jail video and photos show the final moments of Grose’s life, as they did Jeff’s. Sheriff Bruce Bryant, however, refuses to release this. He refuses to talk about it. He refuses to even talk about whether he learned anything from the death of Jeff Waddell.
“Did anyone from the sheriff’s office ever say, ‘I’m sorry?’” – SW
“No.” – Jeanne Waddell
Instead of responding to NBC Charlotte’s questions, Sheriff Bryant posted a letter to the office’s Web site. He says SLED will investigate. He won’t say anything about the restraint chair until that investigation is complete.
The sheriff promises he won’t sweep anything under the rug.
NBC Charlotte has filed a Freedom of Information request and hopes to show the public that video.