February 07, 2013
Logbooks from the old Guilford County
jail in downtown Greensboro show that Christopher Mason Armstrong, the inmate who died in December 2010 after being held in a restraint chair for the better part of three days, was checked on frequently by detention officers. However, those logbooks only contain one instance of Armstrong being let out of the chair in the final 24-hour period of restraint that led up to his death.Guilford County
Sheriff BJ Barnes said that, based on conversations he's had with jail staff as well as other evidence, he's convinced detention officers did remove Armstrong from the chair more than once during that 24-hour period. He said they failed to note doing so, however. Barnes said that, though not reflected in the logbook, Armstrong was occasionally let out of the chair to walk around and use the restroom.
Barnes contends that the only thing his staff did wrong was fail to keep proper records of Armstrong's confinement in the chair.
A Report of Autopsy Examination from the NC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Chapel Hill cites blood clotting in the lungs as Armstrong's immediate cause of death, and that same medical report states that his restraint was a contributing factor in his death.
In other cases around the country, sitting for prolonged periods of time in similar restraint chairs sometimes referred to as "the devil's chair" has been associated with the type of pulmonary clotting that apparently killed Armstrong. In some cases, blood congeals in the inmates immobilized arms or legs, forming clots that then move to the lungs causing death.
On Nov. 1, 2012, Guilford County
paid Armstrong's family $475,000 to settle a wrongful death suit against the county.
A copy of the isolation/segregation logbook pages during the time Armstrong was in the chair were obtained by The Rhinoceros Times through a public records request. Those records reveal two extended periods of confinement in the chair for Armstrong one that began in the early morning hours of Saturday, Dec. 25, 2010, ending sometime later that day, and the final period, which began Sunday afternoon, Dec. 26 and ended shortly after 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 27.
Just after 4 p.m. on Dec. 27, Armstrong was finally removed from the chair. Moments after that he collapsed. He was taken to the emergency room at Moses Cone Hospital where he was declared dead.
The copies of the logbook pages provided to The Rhinoceros Times are redacted and at certain points illegible due to handwriting or poor reproduction quality.
The first sheet in the log provided to The Rhino Times states that Armstrong was first put in the chair at 2:20 a.m. on "12/24/10" a date that was filled in twice at the top of that sheet. However, Matt Mason, the attorney for the Guilford County
Sheriff's Department, stated in a letter that accompanied the delivery of the logbook entries to The Rhino Times: "Note that the first page actually begins with the early morning hours (2:20 a.m.) of December 25, 2010, not December 24, 2010."
Assuming that's the case, the first page indicates Armstrong was restrained in the chair on Christmas morning, and was held there, for his first stay, from 2:20 a.m. Dec. 25 until at least 2:02 p.m. that day.
At that point, the final notation for that stay in the chair is at the end of a page of a logbook. It states, "Sitting in chair." However, it does not say Armstrong was removed from the chair.
Since the notation is on the last line at the end of a page, and it indicates he was still in the chair, it's not clear when his release from confinement on Christmas Day came. But the logbook clearly indicates he was held in the chair from 2:20 a.m. until at least 2:02 p.m. that day.
The next page provided to The Rhino Times is dated "12/26/10," which was Sunday, Dec. 26, the day following Armstrong's 12-hour or longer confinement.
The records pick up again on Dec. 26 with a notation on the first line of a new logbook page that states that Armstrong was placed in the restraint chair in Holding Cell Number 1 at 3:57 p.m. due to being on suicide watch.
According to the jail records, he was held in the chair until 4:09 p.m. the following day Monday, Jan. 26 when he was removed shortly before his collapse and death.
During the final period of restraint from Sunday afternoon to after 4:09 p.m. Monday, there are many notations, several an hour, but there is only one entry in that 24-hour period that states Armstrong was removed from the chair. The logbook entry for Monday, Dec. 27 at 2:10 a.m., states: "Taken out of chair to use bathroom and go to room."
Armstrong is recorded as being placed back in the chair 15 minutes later, where he remained until he was removed shortly before his death, according to the entries in the logbook.
When County Attorney Mark Payne was asked in an email if there is a legal limit on how long an inmate can be confined in a restraint chair, Payne responded, "There is no statute I am aware of that speaks directly to the question of how long should one be restrained in a restraint chair."
The Rhinoceros Times has obtained the Sheriff's Department's jail policy manual for the use of the restraint chair, and that document does not list a maximum time for which an inmate may be confined to the chair.
The policy manual calls for guards to check on restrained inmates at least four times an hour. It also states the chair should never be used to punish an inmate but is to be used only when an inmate is a danger to himself or others, or when he or she is displaying highly irrational behavior that is resulting in the destruction of county property. Also, it states that any inmate confined to the chair must be kept isolated from other inmates.
The policy manual also states that detention officers are to make a notation in the logbook each time an inmate is let out of the chair.
According to the rules laid out in the manual, a sergeant or someone of higher authority must evaluate the inmate's condition every two hours and document that the review was conducted.
In the materials provided to The Rhino Times, there's no indication that procedure was followed.
On each page of the isolation/segregation report form, there is a space on the left side of the sheet to write down the time, a space on the right for the officer to sign his or her name, and, in the middle of each line, there is a place for comments. The form offers some examples of the sort of comments that should be made: It says, "Comments (i.e. shower, attorney visit, medical, out-of-cell.)"
There are many entries in the logbook that indicate Armstrong was observed by guards frequently. There are multiple notations usually four an hour in which Armstrong is recorded as "Sitting in chair," "Sleeping in chair," "Sitting in chair coughing," or "Appears to be sleeping." There are many similar entries.
At 3:57 a.m. on June 27, Armstrong is noted as "Asking to get out of chair," and the next notation, at 4:10 a.m., states Armstrong is "Sitting in chair with head down."...continued on page 2