The family of a 19-year-old Jacksonville teenager who suffocated to death in the Clay County Jail while a corrections officer looked on from a few feet away has agreed to a $2.2 million settlement of a federal lawsuit charging that Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler and eight correction officers who worked in the jail violated Linsinbigler’s constitutional rights.
The settlement is a victory for Linsinbigler’s mother Valerie, who has said she wants to advocate for prison reform and prisoner rights to honor her son. Before entering a mediation hearing on Oct. 24, Linsinbigler told Folio Weekly it would be a difficult decision to settle if it prohibited her from speaking about what happened to her son. Valerie Linsinbigler could not be reached for comment after news of the settlement broke late last week.
As Folio Weekly reported in July, Linsingbigler died after he’d been pepper sprayed, tied into a restraint chair and had his head covered with a spit hood to contain the tears, snot and saliva pouring from his eyes, nose and mouth because of the pepper spray. Within an hour, was dead.
Linsinbigler was in solitary confinement for a total of 10 days after a misdemeanor arrest for trespassing and indecent exposure. He was found running naked along the breezeway of an Orange Park motel shouting that he was God. He told officers in booking that he’d taken two hits of acid, so he was placed in solitary confinement in the medical wing overnight. The next day, officers found him naked again, telling other inmates he was Jesus. When a nurse spoke to him, he said he knew he had to die. That landed him back in solitary confinement on suicide watch.
The night before his death, Linsinbigler became agitated. He pounded on his cell door and threw his body against it repeatedly. He wanted to see his attorney. He wanted to know his next court date. He wanted to fill out an request form. Officers gave him the form. The blank form was found in his cell after his death. But an officer explained to an investigator that he refused to give Linsinbigler a pencil because he was on suicide watch, according to investigative files. The next morning when Linsinbigler began yelling again and throwing himself against his cell, a nurse recommended he be removed from his cell because she feared he would injure himself. Officers employed pepper spray, the restraint chair and the spit hood, and Linsinbigler choked to death while an officer sat not 10 feet from him, monitoring him to make sure he was OK.
The lawsuit alleged that Beseler and the eight corrections officers violated Linsinbigler’s constitutional rights to be free from use of excessive force, to be given due process of law and to be accorded the necessary medical and mental health care and treatment while in custody.
First Coast News posted the settlement agreement online last week. Like most such agreements , it says that payment “is not to be construed as an admission of any wrongdoing, violation of law or Constitutional rights, or any other liability of the part of [Clay County].” Valerie, Daniel Sr. and Merissa Linsinbigler signed the agreement on Nov. 11.