I-Team: Settlement in Man Pepper Sprayed

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CLEVELAND - The family of the late Nick Christie will receive $4 million, marking one of the largest settlements ever against a law enforcement agency in the state of Florida.

Christie, a retired Cleveland boilermaker, died in 2009 at the age of 62 after being in the custody of the Lee County Jail in Fort Myers, Florida.

As the I-Team first reported, the medical examiner ruled Christie's death a "homicide" because he was "restrained and sprayed with pepper spray by law enforcement officers."

It's a homicide for which no one was ever charged with a crime.

The facts surrounding Christie's death are both troubling and heartbreaking.

"What Nick Christie went through," says Nick DiCello, the family's attorney, "Was nothing short of torture."

With his physical and mental health deteriorating, Christie drove to Florida on a whim to visit his brother.

After an argument with his brother, he went to a hotel, where he had another disagreement.

Meantime, his wife, Joyce, had her local police in Girard, Ohio (near Youngstown) call the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

The Girard police are heard on a recorded call telling the sheriff's office that Christie needed help for mental issues, what's known in Florida law enforcement circles as being "Baker-acted."

Christie was later picked up first on a disorderly charge, and then on a loitering charge, but wasn't taken to a hospital. Instead, he was taken to the Lee County Jail.

Frantic, Joyce Christie called the jail, pleading that her husband be taken to a hospital and given his medications.

"I'm in Ohio, and I don't know what to do," Joyce Christie says during one recorded call to the sheriff's office, "And I'm just afraid that I'm going to get a call that he's dead."

Off his medications, Nick Christie apparently started acting out in jail. Guards put him in a restraint chair, stripped him naked, put a spit mask on his face, and pepper sprayed him - time and time again.

"The way he was talking, you could tell he didn't know where he was," says Ken Cutler, who was in jail with Christie for skipping a court appearance on a DUI.

"We could see from our cell," Cutler continued, "He's covered in pepper spray and they sprayed him again."

Eventually, Christie was taken to a hospital.

"When independent medical providers first saw this man," DiCello says, "They were shocked at his condition and outraged."

Emergency room personnel had trouble caring for Christie because he was still covered in pepper spray.

"His treating doctor had to wash his eyes out," DiCello says, "In fact, he tried to wash his eyes out with milk because, he said, in his own words, that he could not perform because of the effects of this spray."

"He was a man that needed help" said his widow, Joyce, "Help that he didn't get. I trusted the wrong people to get me that help...shame on them."

After the FOX 8 I-Team broke the story, it was picked up by news outlets in Florida, which led to an investigation of the case by the state of Florida.

No charges were filed against any of the deputies.

In a statement, the Lee County Sheriff's Office does not address the facts of the case.

It says that "a settlement was reached" and that the money, $4 million, will be paid by both a sheriff's "self-insurance fund" that's in place in Florida and by "the inmate health provider to the Lee County Jail."

The statement concludes: "No other details are available for release. The sheriff (whose name is Mike Scott) respectfully declines further comment at this time."

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