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Lee County deputies cleared in jail death

Jul. 2, 2010


Lee County corrections deputies will not be criminally prosecuted by state officials for their role in the March 31 death of jail inmate Nicholas Christie.

An investigation by the state attorney's office, completed Tuesday, determined there was no malicious intent or reckless disregard for life when deputies pepper-sprayed Christie 10 times during a two-day incarceration.

Two inmates who shared a cell with Christie dispute the investigator's findings, and a federal investigation is still ongoing.

The medical examiner's office had determined the 62-year-old Christie, who was arrested March 27 for trespassing, died of cardiac arrest and physiological stress brought on by restraint and "noxious effects of oleoresin capsicum," or pepper spray.

State attorney's office investigator Kevin Smith reported Christie refused to undergo a medical screening following his arrest, and that he didn't reveal his medical conditions gout, irregular heartbeat, emphysema and back problems.

Christie had been arrested two days before, and his medical history was contained in documents at the jail, but Smith said the files weren't readily available or immediately sought at the time of his second arrest.

Additionally, Smith reported, Christie was combative, banging and rattling the cell door and attempting to spit on jail staff.

"A review of the report indicates that inmate Christie presented physical, verbal and bodily fluid contamination threats to the jail staff during his incarceration," Smith wrote.

"These challenges caused the application of OC (pepper spray) pursuant to agency policy while under the direct supervision of medical care and observation. Evidence suggests that the participants did not operate with any unlawful intent and that their actions would be criminally excusable pursuant to (Florida law)."

Dean Plattner, assistant state attorney, said the case, while "unfortunate and tragic," did not present legal proof beyond a reasonable doubt that any individual or group of jail personnel had any intent to kill Christie.

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In an e-mail statement, Sheriff Mike Scott said while the loss of life was regrettable, he is satisfied with the outcome of the investigation.

Eric See and Robert Grout were inmates in Christie's cell block at the time he was arrested; they had been picked up for failure to pay child support. According to both, Christie was not combative, but he did beg for medical attention loudly for hours.

"If they would have listened to the man, they wouldn't have needed his medical records," Grout said. "He was an elderly man, and he kept screaming for medical attention, and they just kept on ignoring him. He was not threatening, but he was really loud because he was saying he needed help, and they just kept spraying him.

"We were telling him to shut up, that he was making it worse for himself, but he said he didn't care because he really needed medical help," Grout said.

Neither Grout nor See met Christie before, and both said the state attorney's office didn't contact them for statements during the investigation.

See said Christie was pleading for a nurse, and asking jail staff to call his wife so she could bring his medications.

Smith reported Christie's wife, Joyce, did come to the jail March 29 and explained his medical history. Earlier that morning, the nursing staff discovered Christie suffering from "labored breathing." He remained in a restraint chair while they showered him and returned him to his cell.

At 2 p.m. that day, Christie was transferred to the medical unit, still in the chair. Ten minutes later, the nurses called 911 to take him to Gulf Coast Medical Center, where he died two days later.

The names of those corrections deputies involved weren't immediately available from either the sheriff's office or the state attorney's office.

Investigations by the FBI and the U.S Department of Justice are ongoing, said Nicholas DiCello, the Ohio attorney of Joyce Christie. DiCello said Nicholas Christie, a retired Ohio boilermaker, had a pre-existing heart condition and took medication for anxiety and depression. But while in Southwest Florida visiting family, his medication was interrupted and he began behaving erratically, leading to his arrest.

DiCello said Christie kept in his back pocket a list of every medication he was on, all his medical conditions and the names and numbers of his doctors. The list was recovered by Joyce Christie when she came to gather his belongings, DiCello said.

State attorney's office spokeswoman Samantha Syoen said a full investigative report is expected to be released by the state attorney's office in the next few days.

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