The video shows a slightly built 17-year-old sitting in a chair in a Plantation Key jail. Deputies escort him to a small room in the top right corner of the image. The teen stands at the doorway, reluctant to enter.
Suddenly, a deputy sweeps the youth’s legs out from under him, and he lands facedown on the floor. Deputies then drag the teen by his sweatshirt to the center of the room, where another deputy has wheeled in a high-backed chair with straps. Three deputies tie him down — by his wrists, waist, ankles and chest. Then they loop a strap around his neck.
“When I saw the chair being rolled in, I felt nauseous,” the teen’s mother said of the first time she saw the video. “It is a barbaric-looking thing.
“That shouldn’t happen to anybody’s kid,” she added.
The rules governing jailed youths say the same thing.
Use of restraint chairs on juveniles was banned well over a decade ago.
It’s unclear why the youth remained about eight hours at the jail. Juveniles detained in the Florida Keys are supposed to be transported either south to the juvenile detention center in Key West, or north to Miami. The Department of Juvenile Justice does not run the Plantation Key jail, has no contract to house juveniles there and does not use restraint chairs, a spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, declined to discuss the incident with a reporter.
The youth was arrested on June 28, 2016, on hit-and-run and drunk-driving charges, though he was a passenger in the suspect car. Those charges were dropped.
At the jail, video shows the youth sitting calmly in a regular chair. He says he became agitated when deputies tried to put him in a small room and close the door. He says he told deputies he was claustrophobic. When he stiffened his arms at the doorway, a deputy took his feet out from under him. That’s when the chair came out.
In the video, the youth squirms when the deputies strap him in. And then he spits at one of them.
That brought out a spit mask — a hood that covered his face. And it also resulted in battery charges against the youth, which were later disposed of through a court diversion program.
The youth’s chest can be seen heaving up and down. “I remember crying the hardest I’ve ever cried,” he said.
The teen said he repeatedly asked deputies to loosen the straps or to let him out. He said deputies promised to release him if he calmed down, but then they didn’t. “I couldn’t breathe in the thing,” he said. “I just wanted to breathe.”
In a report, the sheriff’s office states that the teen was placed in the restraint chair after he spit at the deputy. That was not true. The video clearly shows the youth was already being strapped in when he spit.
“I have nightmares about it,” said the youth, now 18. “I wake up in the middle of the night and I cannot breathe.” He is not being named to protect his privacy.
This narrative is part of Tales from the Front, a collection of short stories about Florida's juvenile justice system. The Miami Herald investigated the state's youth corrections system following the 2015 beating death of a Miami-Dade detainee. Read the full "Fight Club" investigative series here.