A controversial videotape showing a Utah prison SWAT team strap an inmate to a restraint chair aired on a national news program Tuesday - despite protests from prison officials.
Michael D. Valent died the day after he was strapped into the chair at the Utah State Prison March 19, 1997. Valent, a diagnosed schizophrenic, died from blood clots after spending 16 hours in the restraints.CNBC's "Up Front Tonight," hosted by Geraldo Rivera, aired the first of a two-part series on the death Tuesday. Calling it the "video the state of Utah doesn't want you to see," the program showed some of the events that led to Valent's death.
In the video, Valent was in his cell with a pillow case over his head. Guards ordered him to remove the pillow case, but he didn't respond. After several requests, the guards called in the SWAT team.
The team held Valent, 29, down, put him in handcuffs and cut off all of his clothing before putting him into the chair. Valent screamed while the SWAT team handled him.
Department of Corrections spokesman Jesse Gallegos said Wednesday the video was a simple depiction of trained officers using reasonable force to control an inmate.
"I think the video depicts a difficult situation the Department of Corrections can find itself in. We have a responsibility to protect people who have been sentenced to prison. Part of that protection means putting them into a situation where they cannot harm themselves or others."
Gallegos said Valent had been diagnosed by qualified mental health experts as a risk to himself and others.
"Those officers entered the cell with precision, using reasonable force to restrain someone who qualified clinicians believed was posing a threat to himself and others."
Attorney Ross Anderson represented Valent's mother, Angela Armstrong, in a civil suit against the Department of Corrections and the chair's manufacturer. CNBC aired about 10 percent of the video. Some of the most brutal scenes were left out, Anderson told the Deseret News Tuesday night.
"He was just standing there in his cell, and the SWAT team rushed in and violently threw him to the ground, cuffing and shackling him," Anderson said of the unaired portion.
Gallegos declined to comment on Anderson's allegation of brutal scenes being edited from the documentary.
"That's an issue with the network. . . . I am not going to critique his critique."
Anderson obtained a copy of the video during the lawsuit proceedings and gave it to the cable television news program. Armstrong accepted an offer of $200,000 to settle out of court.
"(CNBC) talked to me about the story, and I told them about the video," Anderson said. "I think it is important that the public know about how the mentally ill are being treated in prison - only then is the treatment going to change in prison and generally."
Anderson has come under fire and may get punished for giving CNBC the video. He may have violated federal court procedures by releasing it, said U.S. District Court Senior Judge Bruce S. Jenkins.
Valent's death prompted the prison to give up using the chair, but that doesn't mean mentally ill patients have it any better in Utah prisons, Anderson said. Guards tie inmates to boards instead, Anderson said. Prisons don't have the staff or the facilities to deal with mentally ill inmates.
"First of all, the mentally ill don't belong in prison, they belong in hospitals where they can get treatment," he said.
Gallegos said the current restraint systems used in the prison are no different from what is used in other prisons across the country and hospitals when a patient or inmate is out of control.
"The department feels that it is providing mental health care for those people who have been sentenced to prison who are suffering from a mental illness," Gallegos said.
Wednesday night, "Up Front" will explore what the Utah State Prison has done to change its treatment of mentally ill inmates since Valent's death.