Although no one has been held accountable or disciplined in any way for the death of 19-year-old Daniel Linsinbigler in the Clay County Jail on March 12, 2013, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit the Linsinbigler family filed for a seven-figure sum, according to Valerie Linsinbigler, Daniel’s mother.
At a mediation hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, attorneys for the Linsinbiglers and Clay County will try to negotiate the terms of a settlement. Valerie Linsinbigler says that she knows such settlement agreements sometimes include gag orders that prohibit everyone from talking about the details of the case. That will be difficult for her, she says.
“It’s kind of a double-edged sword for me,” she tells Folio Weekly. “The last 20 months have literally taken the life out of me. Going to trial and all that stuff — every day it’s taken a little more.” But while going to trial offered the prospect of even more heartache, it also offered the potential for answers. Valerie wanted to hear from the Clay County deputies who were with Daniel when he suffocated to death while they were just a few feet away. She wanted them to explain why they didn’t intervene as he gasped for air.
Daniel, who was quite clearly mentally ill and in obvious need of more robust psychiatric care than his jailers bothered to offer — he’d been arrested during a psychotic break, while he was walking around an Orange Park motel naked and telling anyone who would listen that he was God — was pepper sprayed and removed from his cell in solitary confinement on March 12. He’d been placed in solitary on suicide watch after his arrest on March 2. After pepper-spraying him, deputies tied to a restraint chair and placed a spit hood over his head to contain the tears running down his face, the mucus pouring from his nostrils and the saliva running from his mouth in response to the pepper spray. He suffocated to death 40 minutes after he was placed in the restraint chair, with deputies and supervisors and nurses passing by him and one officer sitting not 10 feet away, watching him and noting his behavior every 15 minutes.
This, the sheriff’s department and the state attorney's office later decided, was perfectly acceptable. No one has been held criminally responsible for his death, which was ruled a homicide. No deputy has ever been disciplined or admonished in any way, though the Clay County Sheriff’s Office did change its protocol regarding spit hoods, monitoring prisoners in restraints and began requiring inmates subjected to pepper spray be fushed of the irritant as soon as possible.
In the end, Valerie says, while her son’s death motivated her to become an advocate for prison reform and prisoner rights, she decided that settling means moving on with her life, instead of remaining stuck on that one horrible moment.
“I have a very heavy heart,” Linsinbigler said on Wednesday evening before leaving her home in South Florida to drive to Jacksonville for the mediation.