It took three grown adults about five minutes to wrestle Troup County Detention Officer George McKinney into a restraining chair at a sheriff’s training facility in LaGrange on Wednesday.
He fought like a tiger, but eventually, aided by handcuffs, leg irons and straps, his fellow detention officers got the best of him.
They’re not doing this for exercise — although they all got quite a workout — they’re doing it as part of training to ensure the safety of inmates and officers inside the Troup County Jail.
Emergency restraint chairs have been in use there since 2000, according to Capt. Marty Reeves, the jail administrator for the sheriff’s office. The chairs are used when an inmate is out of control and may be a threat to the physical safety of himself or others — but they don’t come without controversy. The human rights group Amnesty International has condemned them.
“They call it the ‘chair of death,’” Reeves explained. “But that’s why we train to use them, and an inmate is never left alone in one.”
Earlier this year, a 62-year-old man died in a restraint chair in a Florida detention facility after being doused in pepper spray.
To prevent something like that from ever happening in the Troup County Jail, Reeves said detention officers take extreme precautions in using the chair — and only as a last resort.
“The most dangerous time when you’re using one of these chairs is when you make the decision to use it,” he said. “This isn’t for someone who’s just beating on window or banging around, making a lot of noise. This is for someone who’s trying to hurt himself or someone else.”
He also noted that once an inmate is physically restrained in the chair, the use of other restraints, such as pepper spray or Tasers, “go out the window.”
The use of restraining chairs is loosely regulated in Georgia with no centralized curriculum, and Reeves said the training is “not required, but we do it because we want it done properly, and we don’t want to hurt anyone — either an officer, or an inmate.”
Jerry Calhoun, a detention officer who’s worked at the jail for four months, said he’d seen the chairs employed before, but he’s never actually participated in a restraint.
“I learned a lot today,” he said. “It’s pretty difficult to restrain someone when they’re resisting.”
During the two-and-a-half hour class taught by Reeves, detention officers learn the proper steps to place someone in the chair. The process begins by placing the inmate in rear-locked handcuffs and leg irons, then the inmate is lifted and placed into the chair, where straps bind his arms, chest and legs. Officers use “pressure points” — three of them, to be exact — to make the inmate just uncomfortable enough to cooperate. Reeves offered to demonstrate these pressure points on this reporter — and the Daily News can confirm they are effective.
Once the inmate is safely in in the chair, it can be rolled like a hand truck and is taken to the booking area of the jail, where officers can keep a close eye on the inmate and monitor him for his safety.
“You want to make sure the chair is being properly used,” he said. “And you have to constantly re-adjust the straps.”
Reeves showed the Daily News the area where inmates in the chairs are taken — it sits a mere 10 feet from the main booking desk. The whole procedure, from start to finish, is videotaped by the jail’s surveillance system and nearly half a dozen reports have to be filed every time the chair is used, Reeves said.
The captain made it clear to his detention officers that the chair is only to be used as a last resort — a policy in line with the Georgia Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice, which oversees youth detention centers.
At the end of the training, Reeves asked his officers if anyone sustained any injuries during the training that needed to be documented or treated. One officer laughed, saying the only thing that was hurt during Wednesday’s training was his “pride.”