Improper Use of Spit Hoods: A Recipe for Disaster

Spit hoods (also known as “spit masks”) have been increasingly used by police and other law enforcement officers in recent years. A spit hood, or spit mask, is a fabric covering or “hood” that can be placed over a person’s head and secured at the neck with an elastic band. The idea is to prevent a combative suspect from biting or spiting at police officers.

Unfortunately, spit hoods or spit masks can be improperly used as well. And, when improperly used, spit hoods or spit masks can be a recipe for disaster.

What follows are two real-life examples of spit-hood use gone wrong. The cases were both handled by the lawyers at Budge & Heipt.

In the first case, sheriff’s deputies encountered a man who was acting strangely. They took him into custody after pepper spraying him in the face. Naturally, pepper spray causes a person to spit involuntarily in an effort to eliminate the spray from the mouth, nose and throat. Pepper spray also clogs a person’s nasal passages and can cause copious amounts of mucus. The man was also bleeding from the face following the police encounter. Despite all of this, the sheriff’s deputies put a spit hood over the man’s head.

This was a very poor decision. Because when the mesh or cloth of a spit hood becomes wet with saliva, mucus and/or blood, it can make it impossible for air to go through the fabric. In addition, by placing a spit hood over someone’s head after they have been pepper-sprayed, the person continues to breathe the residue of the spray without adequate ventilation. Add it all up, and suffocation is a very real possibility. And, in this example, this is just what occurred. The man died of asphyxiation due to the improper use of the spit hood.

In the second case, police officers used a spit hood on a man who had been elbowed in the face and was bleeding copiously from the nose. In addition, the man was vomiting. Together, the blood and vomit coated the inside of the fabric hood. The man stopped breathing while the blood and vomit-soaked hood was on. Nevertheless, the police claimed that their use of the hood played no role in his lack of air. The lawyers at Budge & Heipt hired fabric experts test the permeability of the fabric when it was wet with simulated blood and vomit. The experts found that when the spit hood was saturated with these body fluids, no air could pass through. The spit hood, in other words, became a death trap. The man in this case survived, but not before suffering irreversible brain damage.

In both cases, the lawyers at Budge & Heipt were able to secure settlements of more than $1.5 million each. Sometimes, it is only through litigation that police agencies and their officers “get the message.”

Edwin Budge has been representing clients in civil rights cases for more than 20 years. He focuses his energy and passion into seeking justice in cases involving restraint asphyxia or suffocation by police or in jail or prison. Contact Budge & Heipt for a free consultation.

If you or a loved one has been a victim of serious injury and/or death at the hands of police or in jail or prison, tell us about your case.