Target: Derrick D. Schofield, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
Goal: Hold prison guards responsible for unnecessary death of inmate and stop current cell extraction procedures
Cell extraction is the forcible removal of an inmate from their cell through the utilization of such items as stun shields, Tasers and pepper spray; the extractions always include physicality from the prison guards. Prisoner Charles Toll died of asphyxiation as a result and no one has been held accountable for his death.
Charles Toll was being held at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Tennessee following years of run-ins with the law, diagnoses of multiple mental disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure and several suicide attempts. One night the captain on duty ordered cell extraction for Mr. Toll in order to search him for containers he may have been using to throw liquid. Mr. Toll’s cell was entered by a team of guards who physically overpowered him, then carried him, head hanging down and hands behind his back, to a darkened outside yard to search him. In the process, too much pressure was applied to his neck and back. Multiple times Mr. Toll called out that he could not breathe but was ignored as the search continued. Approximately one hour after cell extraction began, Mr. Toll was pronounced dead.
At the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution training refreshers in cell extraction had been discontinued three years earlier, two of the guards had never participated in this type of extraction, and that facility’s own recognized guidelines for such a practice had been ignored.
The investigation of Mr. Toll’s final evening has found no one responsible for his untimely death. An expert witness noted that evidence had not been properly handled and crucial witnesses had not been questioned. One employee involved that evening has resigned as a form of protest on how the investigation was handled. Unfortunately Mr. Toll is not the only inmate at this institution to suffer severe physical results due to cell extraction.
Under no circumstance should individuals incarcerated meet death by simply being taken out of their cell. Under no circumstances, when employees hired to monitor prisoners cause the death, should the authorities look the other way. As no one has had to face any penalty or had to answer for the actions of that evening, it can be expected no suitable change in practical methods will follow and there is no doubt that more prisoners will suffer similar circumstances. Other methods must be instituted to get inmates, especially the established mentally ill, out of their cells.
Dear Mr. Schofield,
The circumstances of Charles Toll’s death as a result of cell extraction cannot and should not be ignored. As no one has been held publicly accountable for the circumstances of Mr. Toll’s death, it is assumed that you are making no changes to procedures and plan to continue to administer cell extraction at your facilities.
Such treatment is irresponsible and inhumane. You must stop this abusive and dangerous treatment at once before any other life under your watch suffers the same fate as Charles Toll.
There need to be alternative methods instituted, especially for the established mentally ill, in order to achieve the goal of getting them out of their cell.
It is shameful that no one has had to answer for Mr. Toll’s death or the questionable circumstances in handling the cell extraction which violated your own guidelines. Immediate action needs to be taken on the guards that severely mishandled this encounter.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: my_southborough via Flickr