CLAY COUNTY, FL — Jailers taunted a young man as he begged for his life, strapped to a restraint chair and suffocating on pepper spray. The death of the teen was officially ruled a homicide, although the state later concluded that no one should be punished.
Daniel Linsinbigler, 19, was being detained at the Clay County Jail on non-violent misdemeanor charges resulting from some sort of psychotic break.
His incarceration did not go smoothly. After one day, he was placed in solitary confinement, supposedly for his own safety. He was placed on suicide watch.
An inmate in an adjacent cell described to First Coast News how jailers tormented Linsinbigler:
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 can’t’ help you now. God can’t give you a pencil.'”
The teasing, Farr added, caused Linsinbigler to grow “more and more agitated.”
The following morning, on March 12th, 2013 — the tenth day of his incarceration — Linsinbigler was allegedly being disruptive, yelling and kicking the door of his cell. Jailers confronted him for “making too much noise” and forcibly removed him from his cell.
When Linsinbigler allegedly did not cooperate with being removed and handcuffed, officers doused him with caustic pepper spray, then placed a hood over his head, known as a “spit mask.” He was then strapped him into a restraint chair — an apparatus used to completely immobilize a person by tying down each limb.
Linsinbigler was left to choke on the chemicals while having an obstructed air supply. He begged for his life, and was told by guards, “if you can talk, you can breathe,” according to witness accounts and stated in a 39-page lawsuit.
Records show that officers strapped him to the chair at 8:18 a.m., and was last seen struggling at 8:56 a.m. At 9:06 a.m., he was found motionless and his skin had turned an ashy-gray color. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
His mother, Valerie Linsinbigler, questioned why he was removed from his cell in the first place. “He was in a single-man cell. Who is he going to hurt?” she said.
“I think my son died a heinous death,” said his father, who shares the same name. “I can only think of the last two minutes of his life and what must have been going though his mind, which eats me the most: ‘I’m dying I’m dying. I’m going to die now. I’m never going to see my sister or my mother or my father again and this is it.'”
Other inmates described how the teen begged for his life:
According to [Linus] 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.”)
“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.'”
Remarkably, these accounts did not match the official narrative given by those running the jail. The officers involved each claimed that they heard no cries for help.
A subsequent autopsy revealed that Daniel Linsinbigler was in healthy physical shape at the time of his death. His death was ruled a homicide; the cause was asphyxiation.
“I have a death certificate that says homicide,” said his mother. “This means someone killed my son. I want to see them punished.”
But no such punishment followed. the local prosecutor declined to file charges against anyone, saying that there was no evidence of criminal intent. All officers were officially cleared of wrongdoing.
Not only that, but to date, no one has even been fired.
Linsinbigler’s surviving family members have filed a federal lawsuit against Clay County Sheriff and eight officers involved with his restraint and death. The lawsuit cites excessive use of force and failure to give medical care.
Florida’s abusive jails and prisons have been covered recently here before. An inmate in Miami recently was cooked to death in a scalding shower as punishment from guards. Stories like these make it apparent that inmates may have as much to fear from their custodians as they do from violent offenders locked inside the facility.