Carol Agster had little to say Friday after walking out of a federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix. The 72-year-old Scottsdale woman let the $9 million verdict she had just won against Maricopa County, the sheriff ’s office and Correctional Health Services do the talking.
“We hope the judgment (jurors) came up with will help prevent this from happening to other parents in the future,” said Agster, whose 33-year-old son, Charles Agster III, died in 2001, three days after being forced into a restraint chair by sheriff’s detention officers.
A medical examiner later concluded that Charles Agster died from complications related to methamphetamine intoxication.
“I wish we would have been able to have the jury recognize that when a person has 17 times the known lethal dose of meth in their system that sometimes they die,” said James Stipe, one of the attorneys who represented the sheriff’s office.
Charles Agster’s parents argued in their lawsuit that their son died because detention officers and jailhouse nurses acted improperly.
The county’s final tab in the case could reach $12 million if U.S. District Court Judge James Teilborg grants lawyer Michael Manning’s planned request for attorney’s fees.
The county carries a $2 million deductible on its litigation insurance.
Friday’s judgment surpasses the $8.25 million settlement the county reached in the 1990s with the family of Tempe resident Scott Norberg, 33. He died on June 1, 1996, after being placed in a similar restraint chair.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has strongly defended the use of the restraint chair since Norberg’s death, said Friday he hasn’t decided whether he is going to rethink its use.
The chair is used for controlling combative arrestees.
According to court documents, on Aug. 6, 2001, Carol and Charles Agster Jr. were taking their son, who had the mental capacity of a 12-yearold, to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital because he was exhibiting paranoia.
They stopped at a Phoenix convenience store and had to call police because he wouldn’t leave it.
But when police arrived he didn’t recognize them as officers.
They handcuffed him and hog-tied him before taking him to Madison Street Jail, where detention officers placed a “spit mask” or “spit hood” over his face and strapped him to the restraint chair.
“While Charles was in the restraint chair, the detention officers leaned Charles forward, and removed the cuffs,” the document states.
One of the detention officers believed Charles Agster was having a seizure, and he lost consciousness. His family took him off of life support on Aug. 9, 2001, when testing showed no brain activity.