JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lawyers for a Jacksonville man who died while in the custody of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office after being hit with a Taser and put in a restraint chair are questioning JSO's ability to deal with inmates with known mental health problems.
Family members of 44-year-old Paul Testa filed a lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville and the Sheriff’s Office.
Testa was accused of breaking into a neighbor's backyard in December, and according to police reports, an eyewitnesses said he was carrying a spear while talking to his dead father, in what Testa described as a vision.
Lawyers for Testa's family said Testa's behavior should have rung the alarm that Testa might have a mental illness, but they said a mental evaluation didn’t happen until it was too late.
Family attorney Ted Pina said that when Testa was taken to jail, he was put in with the general population.
“Clearly the training is not there to evaluate folks like Mr. Testa,” Pina said.
Pina said Testa was schizophrenic and off his medication.
Officers said that while he was being booked by police, Testa became violent and corrections officers hit him with a Taser.
Hours later, during his first appearance in court, a judge ordered Testa to undergo a mental health evaluation, but JSO said that while he was being taken to the mental health wing at the jail, Testa became violent and was again hit with a Taser. He was then placed in a restraint chair.
“Almost immediately (after) he was placed in that Prostraint chair, they noticed he became unresponsive,” JSO Director Tom Hackney said. “They took him from the Prostraint chair and called for medical personnel and a jail doctor who was in house at the time.”
Testa was taken to a hospital in life-threatening condition. He was later taken off life support and died.
“This could be anyone -- a father, brother or son, who had these kinds of issues, for him to go to the jail and end up brain dead,” Pina said.
According to JSO records that the I-TEAM obtained from the Sheriff's Office, the restraint chair was used 130 times in 2015 and 137 times in 2014.
The I-TEAM requested a copy of JSO’s policies and procedures on use of the restraint chair and found no mention of the department's policies for inmates who had been hit with Tasers more than once before being restrained.
“Something about the combination of Tasing him and putting him in the restraint chair caused his death,” Pina said. “He didn’t go in there with any health issues.”
As a long-standing policy, the Sheriff’s Office does not comment on cases that are in litigation.
Attorneys for Testa's family said they expect a formal answer to their complaint and lawsuit within the next two weeks. JSO had 20 days to respond after being served.