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Florida County Deputies Torture Elderly Man To Death In The Lee County "devil's Chair"


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Seems to me LEO still needs a nationwide 'come-to-Jesus' meeting to understand that US citizens are not 'enemy combatants', 'insurgents', or 'play things for their torturous desires'.

Nick Christie was denied his prescribed medication and tortured to death by Lee County Deputies 3 years ago, and LEO Management still hasn't addressed it as being a problem......

 

Death In The Devil's Chair: Florida Man's Pepper Spray Death Raises Questions About Jail Abuse

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When he left his home in Ohio to visit his brother in Fort Myers, Fla. in March 2009, Nick Christie was already breaking down, physically and mentally. His wife Joyce was concerned about his well-being. Rightly so. By the end of the month, the grandfather of two, whose only prior run-in with the law was a DUI in the 1980s, would be strapped to a restraining chair in the Lee County, Fla. jail, coated with a thick layer of pepper spray, smothered in a "spit hood," then finally taken to a Florida hospital where, two days later, he would die.

 

Christie, 62, a retired boilermaker, suffered from heart disease as well as emphysema, the latter the likely result of his former smoking habit and years of exposure to asbestos. A bout with diverticulitis had forced him to cancel a fishing trip the year before, and he slipped into a depression after he was hospitalized for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a condition that further constricted his breathing.

 

Christie had been taking medication for his depression, but the doctor who was treating him had recently moved. That left no one to manage Christie's spiraling emotional state, and no one to control the possible side effects of his medication. Christie's wife worried about his trip to Florida, to the point where she contacted police in Lee County herself to ask that they keep an eye out for her husband. At her request, a captain from the Girard, Ohio police department also called Lee County officials and asked them to take Christie to a hospital if they found him.

 

Christie was first arrested on March 25, for public intoxication. Though there's evidence Christie had been drinking, he was also beginning his mental deterioration, and may have merely been disoriented. One fast-food worker he interacted with that night said she thought he was suffering from Alzheimer's. Though confused (he couldn't remember his wife's or brother's phone number), Christie did inform the jail attendants of his various medical conditions, and gave them a list of the medications he was taking. He was released the next day.

 

Christie was then arrested again on March 27, this time for misdemeanor trespassing. Nicholas DiCello, whose Cleveland firm Spangenberg Shibley & Liber has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Joyce and Christie's estate, says the second arrest was for a minor offense. "It was for trespassing at the hotel where was staying," DiCello says. "He was having another mental episode. He was bewildered, acting crazy, and so the hotel got fed up and asked him to leave. When he didn't go, they called the police."

 

According to DiCello, the jail staff and the staff for Prison Health Services, the private company contracted to provide medical service to the jail, ordered no advanced physical or mental health screening for Christie before he was jailed, despite the long list of medical conditions already in his file from his prior arrest. There is also no indication that anyone was made aware of Joyce Christie's notification of Lee County officials, in which she informed them about her husband's conditions. According to the lawsuit, after the second arrest, Lee County deputies locked Christie's medications in his truck. During his 43 hours in custody, he was never given medication.

 

Christie was uncooperative and nonsensical from the time he was arrested, but at some point after his incarceration, he became combative. Lee County deputies responded by either directly spraying him or fogging his cell with pepper spray at least 10 times. (According to police, Christie was sprayed eight times. A cell mate was sprayed two other times, which may have affected Christie.) He was never allowed to "decontaminate" -- to wash the spray off. Other inmates in the jail, who weren't targeted with the spray, told the Fort Myers News-Press the blasts were so strong that the secondary effects caused them to gag.

 

The deputies then put Christie into a restraining chair, a controversial device that binds inmates at both wrists, both ankles, and across the chest. In depositions, the other inmates, along with a deputy trainee named Monshay Gibbs, testified that Christie was sprayed at least two more times after he had been strapped to the chair. He was also stripped naked, and outfitted with a "spit mask," a hood designed to prevent inmates from spitting on jail personnel. In Christie's case, the mask kept the pepper spray in close proximity to his nose and mouth, ensuring he would continue to inhale it for the full six hours he was in the restraint chair.

 

According to Gibbs' testimony, Christie pleaded with the deputies, telling them he had a heart condition and numerous other medical problems, and that the spit mask made it difficult for him to breathe. Other inmates have confirmed Gibbs' account, adding that Christie began to turn purple.

 

When Joyce Christie heard of her husband's second arrest, she flew down to Florida to find him. "She was actually relieved to hear he had been arrested," DiCello says. "She thought they had responded to her pleas for help, that they would take him to a hospital to be treated." She eventually made her way to the Lee County jail. Joyce Christie would later learn that at one point in the night, when she was pleading with police to take her husband to the hospital, at the same time and in the same building he was being tortured to death in the restraint chair.

 

"She left frustrated," DiCello says. "They weren't listening to her. She didn't know what to do."

 

In the early afternoon of March 29, Nick Christie went into respiratory distress. He was taken to the Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers. Joyce Christie told journalist Jane Akre that according to hospital staff, her husband was so covered in pepper spray that doctors had to repeatedly change their gloves as they became contaminated. Christie would suffer multiple heart attacks over the next two days before he was finally declared brain dead and his life support was removed on March 31. Two days after Christie had been transported out of the jail, Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Robert Pfalzgraf noted in his autopsy report that Christie still had brown-orange liquid pepper spray all over his body.

 

Pfalzgraf determined that Christie's heart gave out due to stress from his exposure to pepper spray. He ruled the death a homicide.

 

The Devil's Chair

 

"I look at this story, and all I can say is, what in the world were they thinking?" says David Klinger, a former police officer who now teaches at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Klinger specializes in the use of force. "As a general rule, you don't use pepper spray on someone who is restrained. There might be some limited circumstances where, say, you have a suspect in handcuffs who is banging his head against the window of a patrol car. You might give him a quick burst of pepper spray. But never, never someone who is secured in a restraint chair. It just makes no sense at all."

 

The Lee County deputies appear to have violated accepted use of force guidelines a number of different ways, including the length of time they kept Christie strapped to the chair, pepper spraying him after he had been restrained (as well as their failure to clean the pepper spray off of him), their failure to properly evaluate him for mental and physical health problems, and their failure to allow him to take his medication.

 

While the Florida Sheriff's Association told HuffPost that it has no guidelines on the use of restraint chairs, there seems to be a strong consensus that the use of pepper spray, stun guns, or other compliance tools after a suspect has been restrained is at minimum excessive force, and possibly a crime.

 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has found that pepper spraying suspects suffering mental illness is a violation of their constitutional rights, and several federal appeals courts have ruled that spraying someone who is already restrained is an excessive use of force. The state of Vermont forbids the use of restraint chairs for punishment, and requires approval from a medical professional and a mental health professional before a chair can be used. In the event that an inmate poses an immediate risk, a mental health professional is to be contacted immediately after the inmate is strapped in. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice forbids the use of restraint chairs and pepper spray on incarcerated minors entirely.

 

The Florida State Prison System doesn't use restraint chairs, either. A spokeswoman told the Orlando Sentinel in 2006 that the state's Department of Corrections has determined the chairs are a safety risk, and inappropriate for prisoners with mental illness. The problem, some experts say, is that inmates with mental illness are particularly prone to "excited delirium," an escalating set of respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms that can lead to death. (Though the diagnosis is still controversial.)

 

Steve Yerger has been training law enforcement agencies on the use of force for 20 years, and gives what he says is the only course on restraint chairs in the country. Yerger says the complete restriction of movement to which the chair subjects inmates can trigger physiological effects -- both respiratory and circulatory -- and that the problem can be exacerbated in patients with mental health problems. "They can just go through the roof, and then they crash. You need to make sure you have constant monitoring, and that you always have medical professionals close by," Yerger says.

 

But inmates with mental illness are also more likely to present a threat to themselves or others, which means they're more likely to need restraint. A 2009 report by the Maryland Frederick News-Post, for example, found that in the previous year, 64 percent of inmates put in a restraint chair by the Frederick County Sheriff's Department had mental health problems.

 

While there's no universal policy on how long an inmate can safely be left in a restraint chair, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections limits it to two hours. Texas limits the time to five hours in any 24-hour period. Montana limits restraint to four hours. Iowa law also limits the time to four hours (though Iowa jails that exceed that limit appear to suffer little more than some public criticism.) Utah banned restraint chairs entirely after inmate Michael Valent died of blood clots -- the result of being strapped to a chair for 16 hours. Though in Utah too, several counties continued to use the chair after the ban.

 

There have been a number of deaths over the years at least in part attributed to what critics call "the devil's chair" or the "torture chair." In a 2000 article for The Progressive Anne-Marie Cusac documented 11 deaths, including several inmates with mental illness as well as cases in which inmates were pepper sprayed after they had been restrained. Cusac notes that in the 1999 case of James Arthur Livingston, who died after being strapped to a restraint chair in Tarrant County, Texas, the first deputy who attempted to give Livingston CPR wrote in his report, "I then removed myself from the area and walked into the sally port, where I threw up from inhaling pepper gas residue from inmate Livingston."

 

In 2004, the Dayton City Paper wrote about three restraint chair-related deaths in Dayton County, Ohio, alone.

 

Restraint chair-related lawsuits alleging patterns of abuse have proliferated across the country, including in Iowa, Georgia (PDF), Colorado, Texas, California, New Jersey and Maricopa County, Arizona, where the chairs were finally replaced in 2006 after three deaths and several million dollars paid out in settlements.

 

Florida has also had its share of restraint chair problems. Four of the 11 deaths Cusac chronicles in her 2000 article took place in Florida jails. In 2007, Lake County paid out a $500,000 settlement to the family of a woman who suffocated in a restraint chair, though the settlement didn't bar the county from using the chair in the future. The state has also been the scene of a years-long, high-profile controversy following the use of a restraint chair on the daughter of the Florida State Attorney in 2005.

 

Like Klinger, the former police officer, Yerger says the use of pepper spray in conjunction with the chair was particularly over the line. "This is a tool for restraint, and there's no reason to pepper spray someone once they're restrained. That's punishment, and it's a form of torture. At minimum, that sort of thing should cost someone his job. And it should probably lead to criminal charges."

 

But the pepper spray-restraint chair combination has happened in other jurisdictions as well. Last year, a Harrison County, Indiana, officer was accused of putting pepper spray in a hood, then putting it over the head of an inmate already nude and bound to a restraining chair. In the following months, more accusations came out against the department, many again involving abuse of the restraining chair. In 2006, deputies in another Harrison County -- this one in Mississippi -- emptied an entire can of pepper spray into a hood that they then placed over the head of Jesse Lee Williams, while he was confined to a restraint chair. Williams, who was also severely beaten, later died of kidney failure.

 

Yerger says the other problem in Lee County is that once Christie had been securely restrained, he needed medical treatment. While the officers in Lee County were clearly out of line, Yerger says, the problem in many other cases is more a lack of training.

 

"Several years ago, I was researching the restraint chair for a case where I was going to be an expert witness. I found that all of these police departments across the country were using the chairs, but none of them were getting any training," Yerger says. "There's no training on the proper way to put someone into the chair, but more importantly, you have these people who have mental problems, or who are on alcohol or drugs. These are medical problems, that require medical attention. This isn't criminal behavior. But that's sometimes how it's treated."

 

This collection of deaths, injuries and reports of abuse involving restraint chairs has moved both Amnesty International and the United Nations Committee Against torture to call for a ban on the devices.

 

In her 2000 article, Cusac points to a deposition of Dan Corcoran, president of AEDEC International Inc., the Beaverton, Oregon, company which manufactures the Prostraint Violent Prisoner Chair. Corcoran acknowledges that the only testing he did of the chair before marketing it was to put some friends in it. He says the chair had never been tested in any scientific way for its effect on someone impaired by drugs, alcohol or mental illness (in fact, he specifically recommends the chair for the first two), or for other hazards like deep vein thrombosis, the sometimes-fatal blood clotting that can occur after remaining in the same position for more than a few hours.

 

But both Yerger and Klinger say calls for banning the chair are misplaced. They say restraint is sometimes critical when a prisoner poses a threat to himself or others, and there's nothing particularly sinister about the restraint chair. "Once you take care of the immediate threat -- and you really do need to take care of that -- then you treat the case like it needs to be treated. That means if it's someone having a mental crisis, you get them to a hospital," Yerger says.

 

"Any new device or piece of technology can be helpful, or it can be abused, whether it's a restraint chair, a Taser, or baton," says Klinger. "If you have officers who are willing to punish and abuse a restrained prisoner, it's going to happen whether he's in a restraint chair, handcuffs, or a restraint bed or gurney. The device isn't the problem. It's the officers."

 

"It's really about culture," says Yerger. "You need to instill a distinct code, especially in a correctional facility, that emphasizes control over punishment."

 

Yerger cites Philip Zimbardo's famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment which, though it later came under criticism, showed how quickly students randomly chosen to be guards in a hypothetical prison resorted to abusing students randomly chosen to be prisoners. "It's a constant thing. It has to be hammered home, over and over."

 

In Christie's case, that puts the bulk of the blame on the deputies and Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, not on the restraint chair.

 

No Accountability

 

When Joyce Christie finally got a phone call in March 2009 letting her know that her husband had been taken to the hospital, the call was anonymous, and the caller didn't say what hospital. She used caller I.D. to determine the call had come from the Gulf Coast Medical Center. When she arrived, the police wouldn't let her see her husband. Fortunately, someone in the waiting room overheard her conversation and gave her the card for a bail bondsman. She left to get the bond, and only after posting bond was she allowed to see him. By then, Nick Christie was close to death. As a deputy at the hospital got up to leave, he told Christie to make sure her husband -- now with eyes taped shut and tubes protruding from his face -- showed up for his court date, or else he'd be arrested.

 

Scott's office conducted its own internal investigation of Nick Christie's death and, perhaps not surprisingly, found no wrongdoing on the part of any Lee County deputy. That conclusion may come back to bite the county. Municipalities have what's known as sovereign immunity from civil lawsuits. But one way to get around sovereign immunity in a civil rights case is to show that a government agency has displayed a pattern or practice of improperly training employees about citizens' rights. Since using pepper spray on a restrained inmate and neglecting to get him medical attention are both clearly established civil rights violations, in concluding that none of his officers acted outside of department policy, Scott may have given DiCello an opening.

 

And in fact, none of the deputies involved with Christie's death were disciplined in any way. Florida State Attorney Stephen Russell declined to press criminal charges. DiCello says that Russell's review was based almost entirely on the sheriff's department report. Samantha Syoen, communications director for Russell's office, says the investigation did use much of the sheriff department's investigation, but that the possible bias of that report was taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to pursue criminal charges. "We've prosecuted police officers before." Syoen says. "We've prosecuted judges, we've even prosecuted our own."

 

Syoen says the state attorney's office didn't clear the deputies involved with Christie's death, it only determined that under Florida law there wasn't enough evidence for criminal charges.

 

"Our office was very concerned about what happened to Mr. Christie," she said. "But the memo concluded that this would be a matter better settled at the federal level, either with possible criminal charges or with a lawsuit."

 

According to DiCello, the office of U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill has yet to show any interest in the case. (O'Neill's office referred HuffPost to the FBI's Fort Myers regional office. That office did not return HuffPost's request for comment.)

 

Joyce Christie returned to Girard, Ohio shortly after Nick, her husband of 40 years, had died. A few days after she returned, she received something in the mail from Lee County, Florida. It was a warrant for her husband's arrest.

Edited by Frank R
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Mine was nothing like that but I was picked up on a warrant for child support which macomb county puts out if you're 1000 behind, which is 2 months of payments so they come all the time for people like me who can't even pay their bills in the house. Anyways I had my ACL replaced 2 weeks before they came and I was still in real bad pain just starting physical therapy still full crutches needed to be used. Once I was brought in the jail I had my crutches taken away, and was not offered or allowed a wheel chair when I asked for one. I had to hop on my good leg and have my bad leg bounce up and down each hop, which is excrutiating when its fresh. I was perscribed 1-2 500mg Vicodin every 4-6 hours for pain, and I was denied that for 3 days, it took over 20 hours until they gave me 3 ibuprophin which did absolutly nothing. When changing into the wonderful suit I was not allowed a chair, I was told that I could sit on the floor that was filthy or figure it out on my own. I was pushed and pulled while hopping by officers because I was too slow, and I was pushed into a cell, causing me to fall and land on the bad leg causing horrific pain until I was released 48 hours later. Talked to a lawyer about the whole situation, he said any tapes wouldn't be available by the time we had a trial, and it'd cost close to 10k just to get it heard by a judge and they wouldn't ever rule in an inmates favor, so I never persued the issue. This type of thing happens in jails all day every day, I'm actually suprised one made it to the news. RIP Mr. Christie

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This is the sickest story I have ever heard. Like serial killers who torment their victims. These cops should be prosecuted for their torturing and killing of this man. This makes water boarding look like a walk in the park, where is the outrage in all of the media?

Edited by thanks2
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If the legislature wanted to truly help people they would protect patients from ever being denied or forced medication while under others control and that doesn't mean when they get around to it or within 24 hours because withdrawals hit within several hours or sooner . Patients should always carry a days meds on them too . Obviously this man was injured by not having his medications and the extreme stress of arrest which can and does kill patients . He needed non zero tolerance care to get his medications and physiology stabilized .not abuse for authorities sake .

 

Medications or items that are part of a persons regular medical routine , even over the counter , pillows , canes , hospital beds or reclining chairs should never be denied that is cruel and unusual punishment to the disabled . It is very apparent our Law Enforcement need more training concerning individuals with physical and mental disabilities . It sadly almost impossible to teach compassion .

 

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One of the reasons I am alive despite being a severe chronic pain patient is I had good Doctors for the most part who know about the discrimination that is out there . They don't know what to do . I give them good information but somehow can't get my needs across the brain to brain barrier along with their political contraints and fears from regulation and governmental policy which actually causes more expense not less . .

 

I feel terrible about this mans death and it happens all over the Country many times a year . First you have a family member that doesn't understand the system will kill loved ones it is so improperly set up for patient issues with medication . 2 you have a patient struggling with keeping up activity levels with what is normal to them before illness and more then likely doesn't know how to help themselves constipated by opiate use which causes septic poisoning of the blood until you get the waste out ( diverticulitis everyone of us gets that diagnosis when were impacted from drugs )

 

When you detox someone at first they become more constipated especially if cold turkeyed or on fast suboxone / methadone tapers . Their blood pressure will rise severely when they do fall asleep if their bowels are full and even during the day if their spasming . It is imperative their bowels remain clear even if they have to use a bowel prep and they need saline to stay hydrated .

 

There is no reason ever to cold turkey a patient and they do that under the Baker Act down there all the time . Once a person has been cold turkeyed they wont ever voluntarily go into a rehab . and it is so stressful relapse is bound to occur to end the torment . Many rehabs often torture patients and puts them in very dangerous conditions that are completely unnecessary . It is very sad this man died from ignorance with abuse because we simply have nobody to champion the proper treatment . Insurance companies will pay exorbitant prices like $30k for a short term detox and certification that their done with a patient . Its like a bribe cause that kind of money should support a inpatient residential program lasting 9 months or more that is comfortable . With cannabis use and a slow taper one can get off painkillers comfortably overtime but if your a patient with pain that was impossible to stand before what have you gained ? You cant even detox comfortable under the best treatment for your particular body . ( there are reasons patients do have to detox periodically they should have in patient support if needed by people that count their opinion and without judgement or zero tolerance tough love )

 

Again patients need protections from the whims or others who would subject them to dangerous with drawl against there will . Patients on dependent medications need protections to continuance of care because they move , Doctors retire but dependency exists a lifetime . Patients should not be subject to the political and personal whims of others manipulated to live in fear of forced insanity and suffering of with drawls . All of us go into this trusting taking the advice of a Doctor and it is a lifelong commitment worth doing while in pain severe enough to cause suicide . But then we find discrimination and no support exists . I was discriminated against by the drug war long before medical cannabis existed . But it is a tool I wouldn't want to be without in my medicine chest .

 

Patients if your on painkillers and are getting weak , sick , and not thinking clear make sure your bowels are working proper . There are about 20 different non stimulant items patients use and its almost all trial and error but you should be pushing out what your putting in daily . I actually would go buy a bottle of Citrinoma after talking to a Doctor to make sure its ok with your health situation and use it to clear out just to see if there was a difference . For me it is like night vs day . I was put on stimulant laxatives years ago before I knew to use fiber , and magnesium and have lost bowel function for a man my age . Be careful but be aware of the number one problem for pain patients that effects everything from blood pressure , kidneys , and clarity of mind . I could imagine Mr Christie was suffering like this causing his unrest , behavior , thus leading to his death by abuse . Its bad enough you get no medications , no laxatives , then in withdrawals with muscles tightening cuasing breathing problems your shut in a small space with little air flow and hostile people . I couldn't sleep last night just thinking about this and how our Politicians are so far off from doing things that will really help people . Many of those with good ideas in health care just can't get out and communicate or are afraid to for fear of ending up in the system like Mr Christie .

Edited by Croppled1
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They don't need training. They need to be held accountable for their behavior. This is an issue where anti- "Big Government" arguments fail. The reason police get away with this kind of behavior is because there isn't enough power being given to the Federal Justice Dept. In the seventies, the Federal Government would have prosecuted any police officers that behaved in this manner. Thanks to Republican efforts to diminish Federal Government influence, the police now get away with all manner of citizen abuse. We need to have another Civil Rights movement and reign in the police.

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They don't need training. They need to be held accountable for their behavior. This is an issue where anti- "Big Government" arguments fail. The reason police get away with this kind of behavior is because there isn't enough power being given to the Federal Justice Dept. In the seventies, the Federal Government would have prosecuted any police officers that behaved in this manner. Thanks to Republican efforts to diminish Federal Government influence, the police now get away with all manner of citizen abuse. We need to have another Civil Rights movement and reign in the police.

I agree, but disagree on the cause of this. Not meant to flame, I recognize my opinion is no more valid than yours.

 

A constitutional government's, small government's, job is to protect the people and their rights. So one of the powers the feds would retain in a small government is protecting people's civil rights, that is constitutional. Unfortunately big government historically has always fed off and oppressed the people and it protects itself from the people, that is what is going on now. We are suppose to protect the people from the government, not the government from the people. As liberty is lost through the expansion of big brother(government) we will see more and more of this. This is what history shows with no exceptions and history always repeats itself.

 

Republicans have been greatly expanding, not diminishing, the powers of the federal government. Watch what they do, not what they say. This is why the tea party started in protest of republicans, not in protest of democrats. George Bush and the republican congress expanded the federal government and powers more than any other president before him.

 

The federal government still has the full power to go after these cops, the article said that they are choosing not too. Have to keep the people in fear, that is the only way they are controlled.

Edited by thanks2
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You know this has been bugging me since I read it earlier today.

 

I work in home health care, have for 10 years now. I have worked in Mental Illness homes, and one of the FIRST things we do before we every even SEE a patient is a state mandated training program 1 week of which focuses on human rights.

 

One of the main things they outline there is the use of restraints. In no way shape or form are we ever to restrain anyone by means of tying them down or locking them up. We were trained in procedures that allowed us to physically (with our hands, not ropes) restrain someone that might be harmful to themselves, staff, or other patients.

 

We were also trained on how to do that in a kind way. Without anger, fear, or frustration, all the while assuring the patient that they are going to be ok.

 

 

So why is this common practice? If I ever did something like this, even if the person did not get hurt, I would never work in my field again, and rightly so.

 

I think if I ever did something like that to someone, I would never sleep again.

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