By Zohar Zaied
On Tuesday, June 8, 2016, at approximately 1630 hours, 25-year-old Thessalonian Love was being escorted away from the Mendocino County Superior Courthouse in Ukiah, California, to a jail transport vehicle. Love faced charges of human trafficking involving 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 civilian clothes and without visible restraints. He was outfitted with a leg brace under his pants, which was designed to stop the wearer from being able to run.
When he exited the courthouse, Love broke free from the grasp of two transport deputies and ran into a residential neighborhood, evading law enforcement for a day before he was 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 caught the next day not far from where he had escaped, but not before he spent some time in an otherwise quiet neighborhood, leaving an unsettling feeling with residents and making the local news.
More recently, in March 2023, 33-year-old Kenneth Hardy escaped from the inside of a transport van in Natchitoches, Louisiana while returning from court, where Hardy was on trial for another escape. Hardy was properly restrained when he escaped custody.
A large percentage of inmate escapes take place during correctional transportation details. Anytime officers move inmates outside the walled security of a prison or a jail, the risk of escape greatly increases. Inmates will attempt to escape whether they are in full restraints or not. Inmate escapes are dangerous to transport officers and to the public.
One of the more dangerous escape risks for inmates comes when a judge requires that transport deputies bring a jury trial defendant into a courtroom with no visible restraints. This is to prevent the jury from seeing those restraints as a sign of guilt. The safety of court staff, victims and the community compete with the constitutional rights of in-custody defendants. To address this issue, agencies today are turning to the stopping force of powered 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 activated remotely by a trained transport officer to quickly stop escape or violence.
Here are five considerations before integrating a worn stun device with your inmate transportation 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 some pieces of another agency’s policy will not work for your needs and you will also find some issues addressed in a policy that you didn’t think of. Establish solid guidelines as to the circumstances when the device should be applied and what behavior should prompt activation of the control device. In all cases, make sure your use-of-force instructors and legal council are involved in the creation of a final policy.
2. Train, then train some more, then train again
Meeting and exceeding minimum training for any force option tool will create competency in staff members to determine when to use a stun device and therefore better results during deployment. Training should include use/don’t use scenarios and practical applications to learn the range of device remotes. Training should also include failure drills to teach the use of a secondary remote when the initial remote does not work; what staff should be communicating with the inmate, their partners and the public during activation; and how to follow up once a device has successfully been deployed.
The more time staff members train in the use of a device, the better their decisions in use and the less time it will take to make good decisions during a quickly developing incident. Overtraining is also good business for an agency in reducing liability.
3. Treat any conductive device like a force option.
You are replacing handcuffs, belly chains and leg shackles with a worn stun device. It may make some sense in this context that a stun device is just like a restraint. This is not the case. A stun device is a force option for controlling dangerous behavior. This means you will likely need to write a report any time you deploy the device, justifying its use. Keep in mind you are using a force option, not a restraint device in the same way you are using force when using defensive tactics to control a combative inmate.
Your agency should be crystal clear on where in the force continuum the stun device fits and what options should be used before deployment. If an inmate is cursing at the judge and the judge orders a transport unit to remove the inmate from the courthouse, those circumstances alone would not justify the use of a stun device. Once the inmate thrashes free of a transport officer’s grasp and starts running for the front door with no physical barriers to stop them, a stun deployment would seem more justified.
4. Communicate with inmates.
There is a good chance you won’t need to use a stun device once an inmate has been advised as to 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. An inmate who is fitted with a worn stun device should additionally be presented with written advisements as to the purpose and effect of the device. When an incident warrants the use of the stun device, a transport officer should give a combative or escaping inmate a final warning before activation.
5. Get buy-in from local judges
Your facility’s command staff or agency head already has a working relationship with local judges. They should have a conversation with your judicial council or presiding judge when they intend on adding a wearable stun device to your tool chest. Judges have the same concerns as your agency when it comes to their courtrooms. They want a solution to address in-custody jury trial defendants which considers everyone’s safety while meeting the legal rights of a defendant.
Asking for buy-in from a judge before employing worn stun devices gives the judge a level of respect and puts the judge inside the decision-making process before an incident. It’s also better to know ahead of time if a judge will not support the use of a control device in his courtroom. You have some leeway as your agency is likely the authority related to security at a courthouse but be mindful of judicial ownership in a courtroom.
Before adding a worn stun device, like 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 powered tool. Consider any challenges leading up to a deployment and the aftermath of an incident. Your agency will find more success in deploying a worn stun device when issues can be foreseen and addressed in the beginning.