Sheriff Found Guilty of Violating Detainees’ Rights With Restraint Chairs
In 2005, a sheriff in the Central West Texas town of El Paso began using the new chairs for holding and detaining prisoners. Before long, they were used to restrain inmates while others restrained them.
Some of the prisoners were subjected to electric shocks from the chairs, which are designed to give the subject an intense shock that will put all motor-skills to an end.
The chairs have been a regular fixture of criminal justice since the 1960s in a number of towns, including Laredo, San Diego, and others in the U.S.
A federal jury convicted Sheriff Randy Tonder on four charges of violating prisoners’ rights. His co-defendant, George Wooten, was convicted of a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against the sheriff.
Tonder was sentenced by Judge Thomas Green to eight years in prison for each of his four counts of violating prisoner rights by restraining prisoners without using a lawful, and adequate, method of control. He also was ordered to pay $8,000 in damages to his victims.
The jury, which deliberated for several days, did not find Tonder guilty on any of the charges. The sheriff now faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison on each of the four charges.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado also issued a civil judgment against the sheriff, who was named as the sole defendant in the suit. In addition, Tonder must pay $10,000 to his victims as a result of the incident.
A video of the electric shocks has circulated and has been used to argue that the chairs are cruel and unusual punishment.
“As part of the verdict, the jury must have found this to be a common, well-known and accepted practice, of this town as well,” said Steven Taylor, Assistant Attorney General. “And the jury must have found that this was the first time there had been any question about their use of these chairs in this manner.”
The chair used in the case has a metal frame and a padded cushion. The padded part of the chair is covered with a special foam, which absorbs the shocks. The cushion is covered with thin metal straps. One strap is connected to the metal frame.
The straps on the padded part of the chair are connected to a pair of chains,