A federal lawsuit claims that a Missouri man who suffered a manic attack was held shackled in a rural jail’s restraint chair in lieu of medical treatment for five days, subjected to racial slurs, force-fed and allowed to defecate all over himself.
The lawsuit filed last month on behalf of Albert Okal names Wayne County, its sheriff, deputies and jailers and seeks unspecified damages. The lawsuit, first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is the latest of several involving use of an inmate restraint chair, a device used to immobilize inmates at risk of hurting themselves or others.
Okal was 41 when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated in December 2016. His attorney, Steve Walsh, said that while in jail, Okal suffered an unexplained manic episode, causing jailers to place him in what’s known at the southern Missouri jail as “The Chair.”
“Their solution was to put him in a restraint chair rather than be checked out by a medical officer,” Walsh said Monday.
Walsh said Okal was not allowed restroom breaks, forcing him to defecate and urinate in his pants; was forced to wear a blanket over his head for one period of at least 24 hours; and remained shackled at the wrists even during meal times, causing jailers to force food and water down his throat.
The lawsuit said Okal suffered physical pain and emotional trauma.
A phone message seeking comment from Albert Spradling, the attorney for the county and the other defendants, was not immediately returned. Spradling wrote in a court document that the defendants believe any damage suffered by Okal was the result of his own “carelessness and negligence” due to his intoxication and his actions in the jail.
Walsh said Okal, who was born in Kenya, was subjected to repeated racial slurs during his restraint.
“I think sometimes you just get a bad culture in certain institutions,” Walsh said.
Okal eventually spent a short time in prison as a persistent offender. He now lives in St. Louis County.
Restraint chairs are common in many jails and prisons nationwide. Some inmates have died after spending time in them.
Among them was another Missouri man, Williams Ames III, who died Nov. 11 in St. Francois County. A wrongful death lawsuit claimed Ames was strapped in the county jail’s restraint chair for more than 24 hours and missed several doses of anti-seizure medication. The suit also alleged that jail workers were told that Ames had swallowed a bag containing a combination of methamphetamine, cocaine and bath salts, but failed to act.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating Ames’ death .
In Pennsylvania, Ty’rique Riley , 21, died this summer after becoming unresponsive in a restraint chair at the Dauphin County Prison, where he was placed after struggling with guards. The coroner ruled Riley died from an inflammation that could have been caused by a virus, cocaine or both, but the death still sparked weeks of protests.
In Oklahoma, Garfield County inmate Anthony Huff died in 2016 after more than two days in a restraint chair. An autopsy blamed chronic alcoholism as the probable cause of death. Huff, 58, had been arrested for public intoxication. The former jail administrator pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter earlier this year and was sentenced to 55 hours in jail.
In 2015, Mathew Ajibade died in a cell at the Chatham County, Georgia, jail, hours after he was arrested following a fight with his girlfriend. Ajibade was strapped into a restraint chair after fighting with deputies, one of whom used a Taser four times. An autopsy found no single cause for why Ajibade died, but a state investigator testified that the 21-year-old inmate was “stressed to death.”