A DEADLY FAILURE IN CLAY COUNTY, AND THE NEED TO GET IT RIGHT IN JACKSONVILLE

Justice for Daniel: Late last week, news broke that the Clay County Sheriff’s Office had reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the family of Daniel Linsinbigler [Cover Story, “The Last Days of Daniel Linsinbigler,” Susan Cooper Eastman, July 1], a mentally ill 19-year-old who died in the Clay County Jail on March 12, 2013, after being pepper-sprayed, hooded and strapped into a restraint chair. He suffocated while a deputy sat 10 feet away, monitoring him.

The sheriff’s office and the state attorney’s office decided no one did anything wrong. No one was ever punished or disciplined. The sheriff’s office shrugged it off as an accident — you know shit happens — and blamed Linsinbigler’s “own actions, omissions or comparative fault” for his death in a court filing. As is common with these types of settlements, the $2.2 million check came with the disclaimer that it wasn’t an admission of wrongdoing.

The CCSO has changed some policies — no more combining spit hoods and pepper spray, for instance — but the underlying problem, the treatment of the severely mentally ill in our jails and prisons, persists. Daniel, who had been arrested on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after running naked through an Orange Park motel telling people he was God, who had a self-reported history of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, who told inmates and jail officials he was Jesus and knew he had to die, was given a medication that quite obviously didn’t work and thrown into solitary confinement for 10 days, ostensibly for his own good.

In a better system, he would have been sent to a psychiatric facility where he could have been assessed and treated by trained professionals, not locked in solitary because he suffered from delusions, not doused with pepper spray and strapped to a chair when he acted out. Daniel shouldn’t be dead — and no amount of money can bring him back.

Pension Crunch Time: On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Rules Committee held a lengthy meeting on Mayor Brown’s proposed pension deal, but pushed back a vote on any amendments to it till next week. The entire council is expected to vote toward the end of the month. If the council amends the deal Brown hammered out with the Police and Fire Pension Fund, the fund’s negotiators will have to agree to any changes, and if they don’t — a likely scenario — the deal is off. And that may be the point.

This isn’t a purely cynical calculation by a council that’s had its fill of Brown (though it’s also naïve to not see some political machinations at play). There are those on the council who legitimately believe that the existing 30-year pension agreement, signed in 2001 (under Brown’s proposal, it will end in 2024), is illegal and, more important, ties the city’s hands in restructuring its red-ink-stained pension system. But even if they’re right, the cost of voiding the agreement will be years of expensive legal headaches and bad blood between the city and its public safety workers.

The bottom line: Municipal pension deals are messy, and this one is no exception. Even if the council acquiesces, there’s still the lingering 
$40 million question, especially given that it’s unclear, as we go to press, whether JEA can shoulder the cost. Brown needs to step up and tell us where the money’s going to come from. But the council needs to step up, too. We can’t afford to kick this can down the road any longer.

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