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Lawsuit Over Polk Inmate's Death Set For Trial

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Lawsuit Over Polk Inmate's Death Set For Trial

From The Tampa Tribune

Curfew violations aren't supposed to be fatal.

But the arrest and subsequent jailing of a 21-year-old bipolar schizophrenic in Polk County proved to be just that.

James Lee Griffin died five years ago after 10 Polk deputies tried to drag him from his cell at the county jail, including using an electronic riot shield.

A federal jury will now be asked to determine who, if anyone, is to blame in Griffin's death.

Jury selection in a lawsuit filed by Griffin's mother, Gina Slone, is expected to begin today. The trial is slated to last two weeks.

"This case is one in which the jury will have to decide how society wants to treat its mentally ill, including those in jail," said Tom Scarritt, one of Slone's attorneys.

Slone sued the deputies and Sheriff Grady Judd in state court in 2007, claiming the deputies used excessive force. The case was removed to federal court two years later.

During prior incarcerations, Griffin had told jail personnel about his psychiatric problems.

Jonathan B. Trohn, the attorney for Judd and the deputies, declined to comment.

An autopsy by the Polk medical examiner ruled Griffin's death an accident, a conclusion backed up by a pathologist hired by the defense. Both attributed the death to "excited delirium syndrome" brought on by Griffin's mental problems and aggravated by his struggle with deputies.

But a forensic pathologist hired by Griffin's family concluded that he choked to death and that his injuries were caused by blows to the head and electric shocks.

Griffin was arrested for violating curfew in the early hours of March 18, 2006, after he got in an altercation with another customer at the International House of Pancakes on State Road 60 in Lake Wales.

Griffin was on probation for a burglary conviction and wasn't allowed to be out that late.

He had a history of mental problems and court-ordered hospitalizations, documents show, and hadn't taken his medication for months.

Slone told deputies later she had considered having her son involuntarily committed that night before he left to meet a friend at the restaurant.

When Griffin arrived at the Polk County Jail he was loud and belligerent, authorities said. He was transferred to a padded cell to keep him from hurting himself.

Griffin alternated between being calm and cooperative and agitated and bellicose.

Deputies took him to a nurse to be evaluated. After telling the nurse he was bipolar and on medication, Griffin became pugnacious and refused to answer questions. He was assigned to the jail's general population.

The nurse's exam lasted about 30 seconds.

After about 45 minutes in a common cell, authorities said, Griffin broke a broomstick and began waving it at other inmates, challenging them to fight.

Griffin was again put in an isolation cell. One deputy discounted Griffin having mental problems, saying he believed he was on drugs. The autopsy found trace amounts of marijuana in Griffin's urine.

Another deputy requested another mental health evaluation; it was scheduled for the next day.

In isolation, Griffin continued to yell, babble, make threats and bang on the door, authorities said. He threw his chili mac dinner on the floor, trashed his cell and cracked a window.

A lieutenant ordered Griffin placed in a restraint chair. The 10 deputies entered the cell with an electric shield, a type of barrier protection that includes a Taser.

Judd later said that many deputies were needed to subdue Griffin without injury to him or others.

Deputies said Griffin charged them.

But another inmate said Griffin was on his knees with his hands on the wall and that deputies "bull dogged" him onto his stomach.

The inmate said Griffin was shocked at least eight times for between five to 10 seconds with the shield.

When deputies discovered Griffin wasn't breathing, court records show, two of them dragged him by his legs to the nurse's station. The nurse said Griffin tried to kick her and began slamming his heels and head on the floor.

Deputes again used the shield to shock Griffin. He became unresponsive and stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later.

Two internal sheriff's investigations and a review by the state attorney's office didn't result in anyone being disciplined.

 

James Lee Griffin died five years ago after 10 Polk deputies tried to drag him from his cell at the county jail, including using an electronic riot shield.

A federal jury will now be asked to determine who, if anyone, is to blame in Griffin's death.

Jury selection in a lawsuit filed by Griffin's mother, Gina Slone, is expected to begin today. The trial is slated to last two weeks.

"This case is one in which the jury will have to decide how society wants to treat its mentally ill, including those in jail," said Tom Scarritt, one of Slone's attorneys.

Slone sued the deputies and Sheriff Grady Judd in state court in 2007, claiming the deputies used excessive force. The case was removed to federal court two years later.

During prior incarcerations, Griffin had told jail personnel about his psychiatric problems.

Jonathan B. Trohn, the attorney for Judd and the deputies, declined to comment.

An autopsy by the Polk medical examiner ruled Griffin's death an accident, a conclusion backed up by a pathologist hired by the defense. Both attributed the death to "excited delirium syndrome" brought on by Griffin's mental problems and aggravated by his struggle with deputies.

But a forensic pathologist hired by Griffin's family concluded that he choked to death and that his injuries were caused by blows to the head and electric shocks.

Griffin was arrested for violating curfew in the early hours of March 18, 2006, after he got in an altercation with another customer at the International House of Pancakes on State Road 60 in Lake Wales.

Griffin was on probation for a burglary conviction and wasn't allowed to be out that late.

He had a history of mental problems and court-ordered hospitalizations, documents show, and hadn't taken his medication for months.

Slone told deputies later she had considered having her son involuntarily committed that night before he left to meet a friend at the restaurant.

When Griffin arrived at the Polk County Jail he was loud and belligerent, authorities said. He was transferred to a padded cell to keep him from hurting himself.

Griffin alternated between being calm and cooperative and agitated and bellicose.

Deputies took him to a nurse to be evaluated. After telling the nurse he was bipolar and on medication, Griffin became pugnacious and refused to answer questions. He was assigned to the jail's general population.

The nurse's exam lasted about 30 seconds.

After about 45 minutes in a common cell, authorities said, Griffin broke a broomstick and began waving it at other inmates, challenging them to fight.

Griffin was again put in an isolation cell. One deputy discounted Griffin having mental problems, saying he believed he was on drugs. The autopsy found trace amounts of marijuana in Griffin's urine.

Another deputy requested another mental health evaluation; it was scheduled for the next day.

In isolation, Griffin continued to yell, babble, make threats and bang on the door, authorities said. He threw his chili mac dinner on the floor, trashed his cell and cracked a window.

A lieutenant ordered Griffin placed in a restraint chair. The 10 deputies entered the cell with an electric shield, a type of barrier protection that includes a Taser.

Judd later said that many deputies were needed to subdue Griffin without injury to him or others.

Deputies said Griffin charged them.

But another inmate said Griffin was on his knees with his hands on the wall and that deputies "bull dogged" him onto his stomach.

The inmate said Griffin was shocked at least eight times for between five to 10 seconds with the shield.

When deputies discovered Griffin wasn't breathing, court records show, two of them dragged him by his legs to the nurse's station. The nurse said Griffin tried to kick her and began slamming his heels and head on the floor.

Deputes again used the shield to shock Griffin. He became unresponsive and stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead about 30 minutes later.

Two internal sheriff's investigations and a review by the state attorney's office didn't result in anyone being disciplined.

 
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