The Associated Press, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 1997

Grand jury to hear case of inmate who died after tranquilizer used

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - A Multnomah County grand jury will consider whether charges should be brought in the death of an inmate while he was strapped to a backboard after he had been injected with a tranquilizer.

Nine Justice Center jail employees, including two nurses, were placed on administrative leave after Reginald B. Gafford, 29, died about 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

On Monday, Sheriff Dan Noelle cleared them to return to duty as soon as they feel ready.

A prosecutor said there was only a slight chance any of the employees would be indicted.

Noelle said his employees followed appropriate guidelines in restraining Gafford. "What has us really scratching our heads is why this guy died," Noelle said.

Dr. Ed Wilson, a deputy state medical examiner, said it might be three to four weeks before out-of-state toxicology reports are completed. The tests could help determine whether Gafford's system contained drugs that could have, given enough additional stress, predisposed him to other medical problems, he said.

Gafford was booked into the jail about 5 p.m. Friday. He had turned himself in about an hour to security guards at the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Portland, where witnesses told police he had been acting bizarre.

He was arrested after a records check showed two outstanding felony warrants, one from California and one from Nevada. Both were drug-related.

Five deputies, supervised by two sergeants, responded when Gafford became agitated and then angry as he was being moved from an isolation cell to another cell in the jail's basement-level intake area, Noelle said.

Justice Center nurses, alarmed by Gafford's behavior, asked Dr. Karen Marks for authorization to administer Ativan, a tranquilizer, said sheriff's spokeswoman Barbara Simon.

The jail has used Ativan about twice a month since August without incident, Simon said.

After one nurse gave him the tranquilizer, deputies converged on Gafford to strap and cuff him to a fiberglass backboard.

The backboards, similar to those paramedics use to immobilize accident victims, employ hand and leg cuffs, along with four heavy-duty nylon straps. They disable virtually all movement, jail Sgt. Elliot Sakamoto said.

It took deputies less than 5 minutes to secure Gafford, Noelle said. By that time, they noticed he had stopped breathing.

Paramedics were summoned immediately.

"The autopsy showed he had scuffs, abrasions and bruising, injuries that should not have caused even serious injury," Noelle said. "The guy shouldn't have died."

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