In 2009 the Lee County, Florida, medical examiner ruled Nick Christie’s death a homicide. Christie, a 62-year-old retired boilermaker from Ohio, was pepper-sprayed 10 times over a span of 43 hours while imprisoned. He died of a heart attack two days later. Three years later, the people responsible for Christie’s death are in jail, but only because they work there as employees of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
According to former reason columnist Radley Balko, writing in The Huffington Post, Lee County sheriff’s deputies arrested Christie twice while he was visiting his brother in Fort Myers, Florida. After the first arrest, for public intoxication, Christie told his jailers he had emphysema and a heart condition. His wife, fearing for the safety of her husband, had previously contacted the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to ask them to keep an eye out for Christie, who was suffering from depression.
When Christie was arrested a second time several days later on a charge of misdemeanor trespassing, he received no medical care and was denied access to his medications. Instead, he was taken back to the Lee County jail and repeatedly pepper sprayed over two days. During that period, in response to erratic behavior, Christie was stripped naked, strapped into a restraint chair, and gagged with a “spit mask.”
An internal departmental investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Christie’s jailers. The State Attorney’s Office also declined to press charges. “The evidence presented in this case does not legally prove beyond a reasonable doubt that any individual or group of jail personnel had any intent to kill Nicholas Christie,” wrote Assistant State Attorney Dean R. Plattner in a January 2010 memo. Manslaughter charges were also out of the question, Plattner said, since prosecutors would have to prove “that someone acted more than merely negligently or by failure to use ordinary care,” that Christie’s mistreatment was “gross and flagrant” and revealed “reckless disregard for human life”; or that his jailers “must have known, or reasonably should have known,” that their actions were “likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”