A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in federal court in Macon over the 2008 death of a 22-year-old Byron man who was confined to a restraining chair at the Houston County jail for 12 hours.
Robert Lewis Stanfill, who was on probation for burglary, was booked into the jail June 30, 2008, for a probation violation after he was charged with a new burglary.
Known to jail staff because of mental disorders that resulted in him cutting himself, Stanfill did not receive the medications for his disorder while in custody, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the lawsuit, he was placed in the restraining chair July 2, 2008, as punishment for cutting himself and confined without breaks to stretch or use the toilet and without food or water, the lawsuit states.
During that confinement, he attempted to bang his head on a cell sink and was moved into a padded cell with a helmet now taped around his head, the lawsuit said.
Later, the helmet and a heavy, full-length smock he was in were removed and he was hosed down.
He was put back into the smock and placed back into the chair, according to the lawsuit.
His cries over three hours for water, including one that he could not breathe 90 minutes before his body was discovered, were ignored, and he died in the restraining chair in part from “positional asphyxiation,” the lawsuit alleges.
He was not resuscitated, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Stanfill’s father, Raymond Stanfill. The lawsuit names the manufacturer of the restraining chair, the sheriff and jail administrator, several detention officers and the company contracted by the jail to provide medical, dental and mental health care to inmates.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and $800,000 for the life of Robert Stanfill.
The lawsuit also seeks up to $500,000 in damages for Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton and Jail Administrator Charles Holt for allegedly developing a policy that the chair could be used as punishment while failing to develop a limitation for the chair’s use and to provide training for use of the restraining device. The lawsuit also seeks up to $3.5 million in damages in relation to the actions, or lack of action, of seven detention officers.
Talton declined to comment, and Houston County Attorney Mike Long could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit also seeks $50 million in damages from the chair’s manufacturer, Oregon-based AEDEC International. Dan E. Corcoran, company president, denied the lawsuit’s allegation that the chair was defective. The lawsuit also alleges that 15 inmates in 16 years have died in similar restraining chairs. The lawsuit did not elaborate on the deaths or where they occurred.
Corcoran noted that the restraining chair his company manufactures has never been proven responsible for any death and that the attorneys behind the lawsuit have not done their homework.
He also noted that his company recommends that the restraining chairs not be used for more than four hours at a time.
But Macon attorney Blake Smith, one of two attorneys representing Stanfill’s father, noted a published article that links restraining chairs with positional asphyxiation and that Corcoran’s own comment about the four-hour limit in the chair would indicate that Houston County detention officers were not provided with information and training needed to use the restraining device.
Jodi Harrison, risk manager for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Southern Health Partners that provides the health care for Houston County jail inmates, said the company’s policy is not to comment on active litigation. The lawsuit charged that Southern Health Partners failed to provide Stanfill’s medications for his mental disorders and for his care while in the restraining chair.
The lawsuit also seeks funeral expenses, attorneys’ fees and other damages as jurors determine may be warranted for the alleged suffering incurred by Stanfill.
“The bottom line is the man should have never died,” Smith said.