A 19-year-old man testified Friday that he paid for misbehavior in Juvenile Hall by being bound to his bed frame for up to eight hours at a time, an experience that left his legs wobbly and his hands blue, swollen and numb for up to two days.
Identified in court as Cliff Lacy, he admitted that he was no angel: He broke the hall rules many times, screamed and swore at staff members and disobeyed their orders. But he said he did not deserve to be tied down, as he was more than 10 times, or stripped to his underwear and put into a padded room, which happened on several occasions.
Lacy, who was admitted to Juvenile Hall seven times in from 1984 to 1988, was the second former detainee to testify in a trial that challenges the way adolescents are treated at the Orange facility. Civil rights attorneys allege that staff members put the teens into "rubber rooms" and subject them to soft-tie restraints too frequently and without sufficient cause.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks to restrict the use of padded rooms and soft-tie restraints and give minors greater access to their attorneys.
"It's not right to be tied down," Lacy testified, explaining why he usually kicked, screamed, bit and spat at staffers who carried him to his room to be tied down. "It's humiliating. You ain't got no control over yourself. You're helpless."
Lacy, now serving a one-year term in Orange County Jail for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, was brought into Superior Court in a yellow jail jumpsuit, his hands chained to his waist and his feet chained close together.
Lacy testified that he usually ended up in soft-tie restraints or a rubber room because he broke "stupid" Juvenile Hall rules, such as talking too loud, tipping his chair back on two legs in the day room or getting a book from the library shelf against a staff member's orders.
Each time, he would refuse orders to go to his room, so staff members would pick him up and carry him there. He testified that after he banged on his door and cursed loudly for five or 10 minutes, six or seven staff members would come into his room and bind him to the bed.
"My hands would swell up . . . and I couldn't walk for the first couple hours out of ties," he testified. "My hands would be blue and swollen. . . . Sometimes you wouldn't get the feeling back (in your hands) for a couple of days."
Lacy said staff members and mental health counselors made no effort to calm him down before subjecting him to soft-tie restraints or putting him into a padded room. He testified that staff members frequently taunted him while he was confined.
"They'd say, 'How do you like it, little one?' " Lacy said. "Or, 'Those aren't too loose, are they?' . . . Or (when he was in the padded room), 'Is it warm enough in there?' when they knew damn well it was cold. Or, 'Too bad you can't have your clothes back.' "
On cross-examination, David G. Epstein, a private attorney representing the county, painted Lacy as a perennial troublemaker and an impossible discipline problem. Lacy admitted that he purposely flouted Juvenile Hall rules because he said they were "unfair." He also admitted using racial epithets against black staff members.
He acknowledged that being in a padded room was not one of the worst experiences in his life and that he has suffered no lasting effects from being tied down. But he surmised that had he not been tied down he "might have had a little more respect for authority."
Another former detainee, a 17-year-old identified as Melissa P., testified that she had to sleep on a mattress on the floor in a cold, drafty room where bugs crawled out of a hole in the wall, and that she got inadequate medical care when she was seriously ill for four days.
Both witnesses testified that they were strip-searched after each trip to court and visit with an outsider and that they often had trouble winning permission to call their attorneys or have them visit.