FORT MYERS, Fla. - Three years after WINK News broke a story about an Ohio man's death after he was pepper sprayed inside the Lee County jail, Florida's governor is demanding an investigation.
A spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed that on January 5th they received an order from Governor Rick Scott to review what had happened to Nicholas Christie. Christie died in March of 2009 after being repeatedly pepper sprayed.
Two months ago a color picture was released showing Nicholas Christie in the Lee County jail strapped to a restraint chair, his mouth covered with a spit mask and his body covered in pepper spray. His widow, Joyce Christie, says the image and the fact that no one has been held accountable haunts her.
"As a family we have no closure. This is something I have to relive every day and think what could I do different," Joyce explains.
Nicholas had come to Florida to see his brother but was acting manic and was not taking his medicine for depression and a heart condition. His wife called her local police department in Ohio to alert them of the problem. They called the Lee County Sheriff's office. The following is a transcript from that call.
Girard police: "It's only from my knowledge of of of his situation that he needs to be pink-slipped."
Lee County dispatcher: "Oh so he needs to be baker acted?"
Girard police: "Yeah he he's manic. He's suicidal. He's taken all the money out of his his and his wife's bank account."
Lee County sheriff's deputies later arrested Christie at his hotel for causing a disturbance and while in custody, he was sprayed ten times. The family's attorney, Nick DiCello, says that caused his death.
"I think it helped kill him and the official cause of death says that it contributed to his death," DiCello told WINK.
DiCello went on to say that the Christie family was glad to hear there will finally be an independent review of what happened.
The State Attorney's office, which wrapped up an investigation into Christie's death in 2010 also responded to the news saying:
"We have always recommended an outside agency handle the investigation if the use of force that causes serious bodily injury or death happens when someone is in custody, rather than the agency involved, in this case the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
But that is not a legal requirement so it is up to the independent agency.
If another agency has jurisdiction we think that is fine to do. From our standpoint, from the beginning we didn't clear any officers of wrongdoing and have suggested this could be something looked at on a Federal or civil level per our closing memo."
The Lee County Sheriff's Office also responded to today's news:
"Due to patient privacy laws and on-going litigation we cannot comment on the facts of the case, however the Lee County Sheriff's Office makes the following statement:
The Lee County Sheriff's Office conducted an extensive investigation which spanned months and involved interviewing over 90 witnesses. Upon completion, the entire investigation was turned over to several other independent government entities including the 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney's Office, the US Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who conducted independent investigations of the case. None of the investigations found criminality on the part of the Lee County Sheriff's Office. The Lee County Sheriff's Office continues to stand behind the investigation and although the death of Mr. Christie is tragic, the specific facts of this case are presently before the Federal Court and no further comments will be made."