Thursday, December 3, 2015

Cumberland County pays $1,540,000 to settle jail beat down lawsuit.

On September 4, 2015, the County of Cumberland agreed to pay $1,540,000 to a jail inmate who claimed that he was severely beaten by County Corrections Officers.

In his suit, Michael Alan Ewing claimed that on June 30, 2008, he was transported to the Cumberland County jail in Bridgeton by Vineland Police Officer James Day.  After having a cut above his left eye attended to by jail medical staff, Ewing claimed that Sergeant Clint Ciangaglini threw him head first into a door without provocation.  This incident caused Ewing to be transported to the hospital and upon his return to jail he claimed that "the correctional officer defendants" proceeded to beat him, "repeatedly punching him, kicking him, strangling him, pepper spraying him until they realized the severity of his injuries."  Ewing's lawsuit names the following as "correctional officer defendants": Lieutenant Dale Sciore, Sergeants Clint Ciangaglini and Brad Pierce and Correctional Officers Edwin Pratts, Kevin Still, Joshua L. Minguela, Drew Ford, John Fazzolari, Rena Miller and Marvin Church.  He claimed that the injuries that he sustained required him to be flown via helicopter to the emergency room at Cooper Hospital where he was placed in the intensive care unit on a ventilator.  He further claimed that jail officials falsified reports and tried to cover up the incident.

Of the officers named in the suit, John Fazzolari, Drew Ford, Joshua Minguela, Kevin Still and Kevin Pratts were indicted in July 2009 for aggravated assault, official misconduct and other charges.  Still was cleared at trial in early 2013 and charges against the other four officers were dismissed in July 2013.

Also named in the suit were Vineland Officers James Day and Steven Houbary.  The lawsuit accused the two Vineland officers of standing "idly by while Mr. Ewing was assaulted and battered."

The case is captioned Ewing v. County of Cumberland et al, Federal Case No. 1:09- cv-05432 and Ewing's attorney was Martin P. Duffy of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

According to an August 25, 2015 County Freeholder resolution, $250,000 of the amount was paid for by the County as its "self-insured retention" and the balance was paid by the County's insurance carrier.  It is presently unknown how much, if any, Vineland contributed.

None of Ewing's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $1,540,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Cumberland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ewing $1,540,000 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.