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Cloth Tethers Abandoned at Juvenile Hall : Lawsuit: Probation Department officials agree to use fleece-lined leather cuffs to restrain belligerent youths. Civil rights lawyers hailed the accord.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The county Probation Department, which is accused of mistreating youths at Juvenile Hall, agreed in the middle of trial Monday to stop using soft-tie restraints and switch to fleece-lined leather cuffs.

The county views the change as insignificant, but civil rights lawyers hailed the agreement.

“It’s only a partial improvement, but it is an improvement,” said Mark I. Soler, an attorney with San Francisco’s Youth Law Center, which brought the class-action suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The soft-tie restraints tighten and cut off circulation. They are dangerous and degrading. No one but Orange County uses them.”

Several former Juvenile Hall detainees have testified that their hands and feet turned blue and became numb after their wrists and ankles were bound to a metal-frame bed with strips of soft cloth for several hours. The procedure is used on adolescents deemed to be out of control.

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Under an accord reached after a brief discussion in the Superior Court hallway, the county will continue to tie teen-agers’ wrists and ankles to the bed frame but will use the leather cuffs instead of strips of cloth, which can continue to tighten if a teen-ager struggles.

During that hallway discussion, attorneys from the Youth Law Center tried to persuade the county to abandon the use of fixed, four-point restraints, such as those anchored to the corners of a bed frame. But officials refused, saying the procedure is necessary to protect belligerent teens from harming themselves.

The propriety of using the fixed restraints, along with many other issues, will apparently be left up to Superior Court Judge Linda H. McLaughlin.

Michael A. Schumacher, the county’s chief probation officer, said he doesn’t care what type of device is used to restrain youths as long as his staff may continue to use fixed, four-point restraints.

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“The issue with us has always been the ability to restrain (a detainee) to a fixed object,” he said. “The kind of material used is irrelevant. We need to be able to restrain kids to keep them from being harmed, certainly not to harm them.”

The use of soft-tie restraints is one of the pivotal disputes in the lawsuit, which challenges a host of procedures at Juvenile Hall in Orange and at three other youth facilities. The plaintiffs also seek, among other things, to restrict the use of padded rooms and to eliminate strip searches.

The unexpected hallway discussion was prompted by an unusual exchange between McLaughlin and Schumacher, who was testifying in the trial.

McLaughlin asked whether Schumacher was aware of the “extremely high, extraordinarily high, unbelievably high” amount of attorney fees the county has paid so far to defend itself in the case and asked if he had considered alternatives to the soft-tie restraints.

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When Schumacher indicated that he was open to an alternative, the judge recessed the trial and suggested that the lawyers confer. That conference produced the agreement that did away with the soft-cloth ties.


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