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After an Ohio sheriff’s deputy left the courtroom Tuesday for a bathroom break, a man in his custody was suddenly hit with a series of electric shocks.
The Franklin County officer had accidentally dropped the remote control for the inmate’s “stun belt” into the toilet. While drying the device, it accidentally and repeatedly shocked the David Wade, who was facing trial on charges of promoting prostitution, unlawful sexual contact with a minor, and promoting drugs, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
The 40-year-old was later cleared medically — the shocks went on for less than a minute — but the judge declared a mistrial, meaning his trial will happen again at a later date.
It’s not clear why deputies considered the “stun belt” necessary. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment.
The electric shock devices — often fashioned as belts or ankle cuffs — can feel comparable to being Tased and often cause people to urinate or defecate on themselves. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, has called for the “torture” devices to be banned. There’s limited data available on how widely the devices are used and under what circumstances, but media reports indicate they’re used in a variety of cases across the country.
In Ohio, for example, they’ve been used during several murder trials. One of the state’s death row inmates even filed a civil suit against a local manufacturer of electronic stun belts in 1997, claiming the belt prevented him from fully focusing on his trial.
Police claim the stun devices are useful because they prevent escape or violence, according to the New York Times.
But sometimes, the devices are blatantly used to exert power over an inmate. Last year, a Texas judge who repeatedly shocked a man to silence him during his own trial was reprimanded by an appeals court for violating the defendant’s constitutional rights.
As a result, the man’s 2014 conviction was overturned. He had been charged with one count of soliciting sexual photographs of a 15-year-old girl online and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Apart from the serious pain they inflict, civil rights advocates have argued that the stun belts alone make a defendant look guilty to a jury. In 2017, ACLU lawyers representing a death row inmate in Georgia said the stun belt had tainted their client’s trial because he appeared anxious to the jury.
That same year, a federal appeals court threw out another man’s death sentence because they said the “stun belt” had kept him from participating in his murder trial. Criminal defense attorneys have long said stun belts, belly chains, and shackles give the person an appearance of a criminal, even if they aren’t one.
Cover image: Getty Images