It seems certain professions exist that attract or reject specific personality types. The vegan would avoid employment at the meat processing plant. The guitarist might open a music store. The police officer — and this is being generous — may be attracted to the mythos of public service. But what of the correctional officer, the prison guard? What type of personality is attracted to warehousing human beings?
Daniel Linsinbigler: Victim of Some Evil Shit™
Daniel Linsinbigler, a teenager who smoked a semi-legal, synthetic marijuana alternative known as “spice,” experienced a psychotic break. He stripped naked and proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ. As is typical in the United States, he was treated not as an individual experiencing a temporary form of mental illness. He was a criminal. He was arrested and placed in a correctional facility. This is common. Approximately half of all Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 have been arrested. Thus, Daniel’s story is not unique.
Sadly, it became unique when Daniel died in the custody and care of the Clay County Jail. He was strapped to a restraint seat and hit with OC spray (aka pepper spray) in the face. A spit mask was placed over Daniel’s head to protect corrections staff from bodily fluids. Daniel died of asphyxiation. His jail house neighbours recounted the story:
According to inmate Linus Farr, who was housed in the cell next door to Daniel Linsinbigler, the teen’s problems began the night before when he asked for a pencil to write with.
Linsinbigler had been in jail for more than a week and, according to Farr, wanted to make a written request to see his attorney. But while deputies apparently gave him the form, they would not give him anything to write with. He was on suicide watch. No pencils allowed.
According to Farr, the guards didn’t just deny Linsinbigler. They mocked him.
“They were all making fun of him,” Farr told investigators with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office. “They were calling him a Jesus freak, a God freak … [teasing him] about his religious beliefs: ‘God cant’ help you now. God can’t give you a pencil.”
The teasing, Farr added, caused Linsinbigler to grow “more and more agitated.”
Jail employees didn’t mention teasing in their interviews with investigators from either the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or CCSO Internal Affairs. But all agree that at some point, Linsinbigler’s agitation grew physical. He began kicking and punching his cell door. A later autopsy found only “minor abrasions” on his hands, but officers said they were concerned for his safety.
“We really believed he was going to hurt himself,” Clay County Deputy Rodney Houldson told investigators in a recently concluded Internal Affairs investigation.
So, at about 8:30 that morning, according to all accounts, officers entered his cell, subdued him with pepper spray and strapped him into a restraint chair. The order to use pepper spray, according to officers, came from Sergeant Robert Heaps. Deputy Houldson complied with the order, but told investigators he didn’t agree with it.
“I did not want to even spray this guy,” he told Internal Affairs. “I didn’t need to. I’m a big guy, controlling this guy was not going to be an issue for me at all. He was a fragile guy as it was.”
Immobilized in the chair, with nylon straps tight across his arms, legs and chest, Linsinbigler began to produce a large volume saliva and mucus – a reaction to the pepper spray. To prevent getting contaminated by the fluids, officers covered his head with a nylon and mesh hood – a so-called “spit mask.”
What happened next depends on who’s talking. At least three inmates say Linsinbigler began pleading for help.
According to Farr, in the cell next door, “He started complaining that he was having chest pains: ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, get this hood off. I’m going to behave … Just let me get some air I have to be able to breathe.'”
Inmate John Jarvis, in an adjacent cell, gave a similar account. “He was begging to have [the hood removed], gasping, saying I can’t breath[e].” (Jarvis says one officer responded, “If you can talk, you can breathe.”)
Accounts from corrections officers differ. None recalled hearing Linsinbigler begging for help, though his chair was outside the guard station, in the middle of the cellblock. None of the officers recalled specifically what he said in his final hour. All say he was monitored every 15 minutes, as required by jail policy.
Shortly after 9 am, Linsinbigler stopped yelling and moving. His eyes and mouth hung open, his skin turned ashy gray. Corrections officers removed him from his chair and began CPR. When that failed, they called 911. Despite those efforts, Linsinbigler was unresponsive. He was taken to Orange Park medical center where he was declared dead.
“Sir, they killed that boy,” inmate Jarvis wrote in a letter to the Public Defender’s Office. “He was gasping and begging, stating over and over, ‘I can’t breathe. Roll back the cameras — I only wanted a pencil.'”
Institutional Sadism & Following Orders
Despite monitoring the young man every fifteen minutes, none of the correctional officers had any recollection of Daniel begging for help. But the inmates heard it. Correctional staff allowed Daniel to die. And it all could have been avoided if they would have given him a pencil or, at the very least, had not deliberately gone out of their way to antagonize a mentally ill inmate to the point of making him aggressive.
The fact that they strapped him to a chair, hit him with OC, put a mask on him, and allowed him to die will all be dismissed with hand-waving, pleas of ignorance and assertions of following policy.
Clay County Deputy Rodney Houldson didn’t even want to spray the young man, according to his own word. He simply did it because Sergeant Robert Heaps ordered him to.
Just following orders.
But nothing can excuse the behaviour of those correctional officers — not even within the paradigm of authoritarianism and police apologetics — for deliberately teasing, goading and antagonizing a mentally ill inmate to spark a reaction.
The idiot who simply wants a pay check can become a corrections officer. The bar to entry is low. Unemployment is high. The potential corrections officer may not have an ounce of sadism or malice within. Yet, there are individuals attracted to corrections for the sadistic motive of participating in state-sanctioned abuse.
And don’t mistake it — these are not “a few bad apples.” The very nature of prisons as authoritarian institutions turn normal individuals toward sadistic behaviour. Zimbardo demonstrated that and much more during the Stanford prison experiment.
Associate Medical Examiner Stacey Simons did rule Daniel’s death a homicide. And a lawsuit has been filed implicating Deputy Angel Acosta, Deputy Jared Bludsworth, Deputy Rodney Houldson, Deputy Neal McDade, Deputy Lenvil Senter, Deputy Becky Wolfe, Sgt. Robert Heaps and Capt. Tom Waugh.