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Spit Hoods Linked To Dozens Of In-Custody Deaths

Mesh bags called spit hoods have been used on at least 31 people who died in police custody between 2013 and 2023, according to an investigation by The Marshall Project and WTSP, the CBS affiliate in Tampa. The hoods keep people from spitting on officers and save them from potential health risks from contact with saliva, and are used healthcare workers also use the nets to keep patients from spitting on them in places like hospitals, ambulances and nursing homes.  But there are no national reporting requirements on deaths involving spit hoods and law enforcement. And most departments that give patrol officers the masks don’t track how often they are used, and many don’t have policies on deploying the device. Among the ones who do, the rules vary wildly. Many police departments include spit hoods in their use of force policies and consider them restraints. But other police chiefs and law enforcement leaders have characterized spit socks as sanitary devices. 

Some research studies have shown that even dense spit hoods are easier to breathe in than an N95 mask, and study subjects could breathe even in hoods sprayed with artificial saliva. But critics say none of those studies mimicked the chaos and stress of being arrested or held in jail. Forty-nine-year-old Tim Peters, for instance, was placed in a spit hood in a medical unit in Hernando County jail north of Tampa after an altercation with deputies. When it became soaked with saliva and blood, they added another one. Minutes later, he was motionless in a wheelchair, and died at the hospital the next day. A medical examiner noted the use of the spit hood, but could not determine the cause of death. “One death is too many,” said George Kirkham, a Florida State University criminology professor who is an expert in police use of force. “We can say more people die from shootings or beatings, but the families of these folks are devastated just the same.”


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