On March 25, 2008, Jason Jesus Gomez, 35, who was in custody for a probation violation and had been off his medication for several days, began attacking jail employees. As he was being restrained, Gomez repeatedly claimed he couldn't breath. Deputies soon realized Gomez was right when he literally stopped breathing. He died several days later at a hospital when he was taken off life support.
Now, according to a story in today's Orange County Register, his family has won a $2.1 million legal settlement from the county.
Gomez was just one of several inmates to be injured or who died inside Orange County jails after being tasered while already handcuffed or otherwise restrained. Specifically, Gomez perished after being placed in a wheelchair used to restrain uncooperative prisoners, apparently because one of the guards was pushing his head down. "He said, 'I can't breathe,' several times," claims the family's attorney, Jerry Steering. "They said, 'If you can talk you can breathe."
From the Register story, it's easy to see why the guards placed Gomez in the chair. The fracas started when Gomez, who had just been transferred to the jail's psychiatric unit for evaluation, broke a nurse's arm. When deputies tried to place him in a straitjacket, he fought them off by throwing soapy water on the floor and using a mattress as a shield. "Gomez fought and spat at deputies, biting one jailer on the finger," the Reg reports. He eventually was overcome and handcuffed on the floor outside his cell. He was placed in leg irons, put in a wheelchair and fitted with a spit mask. "
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Because of Gomez' death and others, the Orange County Sheriff's Department later prohibited the use of tasers against prisoners who have been handcuffed or otherwise restrained. "Steering praised Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and her staff for "attempting to reform the culture of violence and cruelty practiced by jail deputies" under the former administration," the paper concluded, a reference to disgraced ex-sheriff Mike Carona, now serving time in federal prison.