Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Middlesex County pays $325,000 to settle man's estate's wrongful death suit against jail guards.

On October 8, 2014, the County of Middlesex agreed to pay $325,000 to the estate of a man who died while in custody at the County's Correctional Facility.

The lawsuit was brought by Lena Delgado de Torres, the personal representative of the Estate of Humberto Alfonso.  Alfonso was a pre-trial detainee who died on February 28, 2011 while in custody at the Middlesex County Correctional Facility.  According to the complaint, jail officers attempted to handcuff Alfonso to move him from his jail cell to the medical area.  Alfonso's alleged refusal to fully comply with the officers resulted in a physical altercation involving Alfonso and several corrections officers.  The lawsuit states that Alfonso was pepper-sprayed after having been handcuffed and placed in a "restraint chair."  When a nurse saw that he was unresponsive, Alfonso was moved to a stretcher and died after cardio-pulmonary resuscitation efforts failed.  The lawsuit states that Alfonso's autopsy revealed that the pepper spray was the proximate cause of his death.

The corrections officers were identified only by their last names: Knight, Poulson, Castro, Estevez, Ortega, Christiansen and Szumowski.  They, along with Warden Edmond C. Cicchi, were identified in the settlement agreement as "non-settling defendants."

The case is captioned the Estate of Alfonso v. Middlesex County, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-01227 and the Estate's attorney was Lennox S. Hinds of Somerset and New York.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Estate's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $325,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Middlesex or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Middlesex or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Estate $325,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.