Douglas Wayne Jensen, 57, died of a broken neck and other related injuries at Alaska Regional Hospital on Saturday, 10 days after he was injured while being booked into the Anchorage Correctional Complex, according to Alaska State Troopers. Jensen, a Fairbanks resident, was arrested by Anchorage police June 14 after he became angry and refused to pay a $40 cab fare after failing to find his car at a local towing company, an Anchorage Police Department spokesman said.
Corrections Commissioner Marc Antrim regretfully declined to discuss the specifics of the case on the advice of state attorneys who have advised him not to comment while the investigation is under way. The Corrections Department operates the jail. Brad Wilson, business manager for the Alaska Correctional Officers Association, which represents correctional officers, issued a press release stating that he has talked to the five officers involved and defended their actions. The statement says taking combative individuals to the floor "is a common control technique that prevents injury to both the inmate and the officer", while acknowledging that "in the thousands of take-downs that happen every year in the corrections environment, there is always the possibility that someone can be hurt".
However, inmate Scott Murrison was considerably more forthcoming. In a telephone interview from jail Wednesday, Murrison said he was in the booking area when Jensen was being processed into the correctional complex on June 14th. Murrison said he had been returned to Alaska from Washington on a parole violation stemming from a robbery conviction here in 1998. Murrison said Jensen was belligerent, yelling and cursing at the officers. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he tried to pull away as officers moved him toward a cell, Murrison said.
"They were going to put him in a room because he was so angry," Murrison said. "He kind of pulled back," and one of the officers extended a foot in front of him and "sort of just flipped him" forward onto the floor. He landed on his head, and it folded under him."
Murrison said one officer dropped onto Jensen's back, then two others. "They jumped on him, and then pushed him into a room," he said, adding that Jensen appeared unconscious. A nurse came to tend to Jensen, and an oxygen apparatus was brought in, Murrison said. Some time after that -- Murrison guessed 20 minutes -- medics arrived.
When asked about Murrison's allegations, Brad Wilson declined to address the specifics. He said the officers perform a dangerous, difficult service. "Correctional officers are assaulted thousands of times daily in this country," he said. "Alaska's correctional officers are no different; they manage violent, unpredictable and combative remands (people being booked into jail) every day."
Wilson said he could neither confirm nor deny whether the prisoner was in handcuffs. But in an a follow-up e-mail late Wednesday, he wrote: "A handcuffed inmate that becomes combative can still do a lot of damage, a lot of bodily harm. If a handcuffed inmate becomes combative, the use-of-force policy allows for that inmate to be restrained to the ground and controlled, again, for both the safety of the inmate as well as the officer. You would be shocked at how many Alaska Correctional Officers are injured by handcuffed inmates."
There are similarities between this case and the case of Gerald Haynes, who died on March 20, 2004 after a scuffle with bouncers at Chilkoot Charlie's. To refresh faded memories, Haynes, after becoming intoxicated, started acting belligerently. After being successfully ejected once from the nightclub, he returned to continue the argument, after which he was swarmed and taken down by several bouncers. He died immediately thereafter. A letter to the editor from David Nathanson entitled "Koot's Apology Not Good Enough", published in the May 5th, 2004 issue of the Anchorage Press, summarizes the findings. According to this letter, on April 2nd, 2004, it was reported in the Anchorage Daily News that Gerald Haynes' death was ruled a homicide from “positional and compression asphyxia” according to acting state medical examiner Dr. Franc Fallico. “What caused it was the position Mr. Haynes' body was in,” Fallico said in the Daily News article. The article said Haynes stopped breathing while lying face down in handcuffs on the floor of Chilkoot's Swing Bar.
The common denominators: Both individuals were cuffed, both were swarmed, both were taken down, and in both cases, the position of the body may have been a factor, although Gerald Haynes' neck was not broken.
Analysis: First, the account of the inmate must be taken with a grain of salt. While Scott Murrison is a remand prisoner rather than an actual convict, inmates do not exactly have a strong vested personal interest in representing the actions of law enforcement in the most favorable possible light. It does appear, by his syntax, that Murrison is making a reasonable effort to be as objective as possible.
Second, the investigation should bring out whether and/or when troopers knew about Jensen's broken neck. Unless a victim's head is in a completely unnatural position, a broken neck can be difficult to spot in advance. The timely medical response implies that troopers knew something had gone seriously wrong and were taking corrective measures. However, if they did not know that Jensen's neck was broken, they may not have immobilized him properly at the outset. It is common medical wisdom that you must immobilize a suspected broken neck patient immediately.
Third, the reaction of some of the community to Gerald Haynes' death, irrationally blaming it all on Chilkoot Charlie's, implies some people have a fundamental misunderstanding of how security and law enforcement personnel are supposed to operate. We certainly pay these people to put themselves in harm's way; we expect them to take a lick or two now and again. They also not only expect it, but specifically train for it. However, we also pay them to resolve disturbances as quickly, efficiently, and professionally as possible. The longer it takes security to resolve a disturbance, the greater the risk of injury and/or death to all parties, collateral damage, and even outside interference by bystanders (the latter a critical triggering mechanism in the 1965 Watts riots). Security and law enforcement personnel are not obliged to give a "suspect" a "fair" fight or a "fair" opportunity to escape. This is a manifestation of the exaggerated sense of fairness that allowed the civil rights movement to shift from the commendable goal of equal opportunity to the extortionate goal of equal outcome. This same sense of "fairness" has allowed this country to become overrun by at least 12 million illegal immigrants, even to the point of putting water stations in the Arizona desert to aid and abet their illegal entry into the United States, in the name of "humanity" and "compassion". This isn't fairness, it's masochism.
Through their belligerency and physical resistance, both Gerald Haynes and Douglas Wayne Jensen triggered the events leading to their deaths, and correspondingly bear primary responsibility. In the understandable and commendable effort to investigate this matter, let's not put handcuffs on the cops.
Tags: politics , crime , brrreeeport , Anchorage Jail , justice