By Zohar Zaied
Tuesday 8 June 2016, approximately 4:30 p.m., 25-year-old Thessalonian Love was escorted away from the Mendocino County Superior Courthouse in Ukiah, California, to a prison transport vehicle. Love was accused of trafficking a 14-year-old girl. Because Love was in the middle of a jury trial, he was escorted to and from the transport vehicle in plainclothes and without visible restraints. He was equipped with a leg buckle under his pants which was designed to prevent the wearer from being able to run.
As he left the courthouse, Love broke free from the grip of two transportation deputies and ran into a residential neighborhood, evading law enforcement for a day before being recaptured. Upon further investigation, officials discovered that before being transported away from the courthouse, Love managed to remove his leg brace undetected while waiting in one of the court’s holding cells. Love was captured the next day not far from where he had fled, but not before spending some time in an otherwise quiet neighborhood, leaving an unsettling feeling among residents and making the local news.
More recently, in March 2023, 33-year-old Kenneth Hardy escaped from the inside of a delivery van in Natchitoches, Louisiana, while returning from court, where Hardy was indicted for another escape. Hardy was properly restrained when he escaped custody.
A large percentage of inmates’ escapes take place during correctional transport. Any time officers move inmates outside the walled security of a jail or prison, the risk of escape increases significantly. Inmates will attempt to escape regardless of whether they are in full restraint or not. The escape of inmates is dangerous to transport officers and to the public.
One of the more dangerous escape risks for inmates comes when a judge requires transportation deputies to bring a charged juror into a courtroom without visible restraints. This is to prevent the jury from seeing these limitations as a sign of guilt. The safety of court personnel, victims, and the community competes with the constitutional rights of defendants in custody. To solve this problem, agencies today are turning to the stopping power of electrical restraints, such as the Stun-Cuff wireless prisoner control devices. Worn by an inmate in contact with their body and hidden under their clothing, a stun device can be remotely activated by a trained transport officer to quickly stop escape or violence.
Here are five considerations before integrating a worn sedation unit with your inmate transport unit.
1. Adopt a clear policy
There is no need to create your policy from scratch. Other agencies have already adopted policies that work for them. You may find that some parts of another agency’s policy won’t work for your needs, and you’ll also find some issues addressed in a policy that you didn’t think of. Establish solid guidelines regarding the circumstances of when the device should be used and what behavior should prompt activation of the control device. In all cases, ensure that your use of force instructors and legal counsel are involved in the creation of a final policy.
2. Train, then train some more, and then again
Meeting and exceeding minimum training for any force option tool will create competency in employees to determine when to use a stun device and thus better outcomes during deployment. Training should include use/don’t use scenarios and practical applications to learn the range of device remote controls. Training should also include fail drills to learn the use of a secondary remote control when the original remote control does not work; which staff will communicate with the inmate, their partners and the public during activation; and how to follow up once a device has been deployed.
The more time employees train in the use of a device, the better their decisions will be in use, and the less time it will take to make good decisions during a rapidly evolving incident. Overtraining is also good business for an agency in reducing liability.
3. Treat any leading unit as a power option.
You replace handcuffs, belly chains and leg chains with a worn-out anesthetic device. It may make sense in this context that a stunning device is like a restraint. This is not the case. A stunning device is a power option to control dangerous behavior. This means that you will probably have to write a report every time you deploy the device justifying its use. Remember that you are using a force option, not a restraint in the same way that you use force when using defensive tactics to control a combative prisoner.
Your agency should be crystal clear as to where in the force continuum the stun unit fits and what options must be used prior to deployment. If an inmate swears at the judge and the judge orders a transport unit to remove the inmate from the courthouse, those circumstances alone will not justify the use of a stun device. Once the inmate breaks free of a transport officer’s grip and starts running for the front door with no physical barriers to stop them, a sedation would seem more justified.
4. Communicate with inmates.
There is a good chance that you will not need to use a stun device once an inmate has been informed of what the device will do. Make it clear to the inmate that the worn stun device will stop an escape or assault attempt and how. In addition, an inmate who is equipped with a worn stunning device should be presented with written advice about the purpose and effectiveness of the device. When an incident warrants the use of the stun device, a transport officer should give a combative or fleeing inmate a final warning before activation.
5. Get buy-in from local judges
Your facility’s command staff or agency chief already has a working relationship with local magistrates. They should have a conversation with your legal counsel or presiding judge when they intend to add a portable sedation device to your toolbox. Judges have the same concerns as your agency when it comes to their courtrooms. They want a solution to address defendants in a jury trial that is in custody and that takes everyone’s safety into account while fulfilling the legal rights of a defendant.
Asking for buy-in from an umpire before using worn stun devices gives the umpire a level of respect and puts the umpire into the decision-making process prior to an incident. It is also better to know in advance if a judge will not support the use of a monitoring device in his courtroom. You have some leeway since your agency is likely the authority related to courthouse security, but be aware of the legal ownership of a courtroom.
Before you add a worn-out stun device, such as the Stun-Cuff wireless prisoner control devices, to your agency’s list of force options, you should have a plan in place to ensure proper, safe, and effective use of this electrical tool. Consider any challenges leading up to an implementation and the aftermath of an incident. Your agency will find more success in implementing a worn sedation unit when problems can be anticipated and addressed at the outset.