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Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle has issued a letter in response to calls by the local NAACP chapter to stop use of a restraint chair at the jail, with Pelle saying the use of the chair is “often necessary”  in “dangerous and quickly-evolving events.”

In a resolution, the NAACP said the use of the restraint chair “may increase or produce long-lasting trauma” and asked that its use “be replaced with interventions produced and executed by staff trained in psychological trauma and mental health.”

In a letter of response dated Monday, Pelle agreed that mental health interventions “are often an appropriate and necessary element for helping detainees through crisis episodes,” and said the jail has a mental health unit and medical staff on site.

“However, our staff frequently deal with detainees who are actively aggressive, assaultive, destructive or bent on self-harm,” Pelle wrote. “The restraint of these individuals during these dangerous and quickly-evolving events is critical regardless of whether mental health assistance is immediately available or not. Restraint is often necessary to help facilitate the transfer of a detainee to a clinical or hospital setting, or to calm the situation enough to get on-site mental health professionals involved with the detainee.”

Pelle said the restraint char, along with a new “soft” restraint system called the “WRAP,” are used to help “prevent harm to detainees and staff, and is more effective and safer than old systems like four point restrains to the floor.”

Pelle also noted jail staff cannot administer sedatives because the jail is not a licensed medical facility.

“Physical restraint is the only option when verbal deescalation or lesser use of force is not effective,” Pelle wrote.

Pelle said the jail’s policies and practices concerning the chair were updated just in November and always take into account community suggestions.

The NAACP also expressed concerns about abuse of the restraint chair and deputies hurting inmates in it. Last year, a sergeant with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office was arrested and resigned after reportedly using a stun gun on an Black inmate in a restraint chair at the Boulder County Jail.

Pelle in his letter agreed that “any use of force may be subject to abuse.”

“But eliminating the availability of options without safe and effective alternatives does nothing to improve the safety of the jail for detainees and staff, and in fact makes the jail a more dangerous place,” Pelle wrote. “That is why strict policies have been put in place regarding this level of force, and we have swiftly and decisively held employees accountable for violating these policies.”

Pelle concluded the letter by writing that “we will continue to remain restrictive on when this can be done, and be pro-active in keeping our equipment, training and policies up to date and progressive.”

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