Thursday, June 23, 2016

Salem County pays $49,500 to settle inmate's jail assault lawsuit.

On March 4, 2016, Salem County paid a Minotola man $49,500 to settle his lawsuit claiming that county jail officers allegedly beat him after they "misinterpreted his disability as resistance and contempt."

In his suit, Harold Jones, a diabetic and schizophrenic, claimed that on June 27, 2013, he suffered a "medical episode" that caused him to drive his vehicle until it ran out of gas.  While sitting in his car on Route 40 in Woodstown, Jones was arrested by New Jersey State Trooper J.J. Smith who found an outstanding traffic warrant against him.  After telephoning Jones' sister and learning of his condition, Smith took Jones to the Salem County Correctional Facility where he remained until he was admitted to Salem Hospital on June 29, 2013.  He said that hospital staff "observed [him] to have an altered mental status in association with elevated blood sugars up to 1000, fractured ribs, and injured toes."

Also named in the suit were Sheriff Charles M. Miller and Warden Raymond C. Skradzinski.  Trooper Smith and the State Police were dismissed from the suit by Judge Noel L. Hillman on March 15, 2016.

The case is captioned Jones v. County of Salem, et al, Federal Case No. 1:15-cv-03093 and Jones's attorney was Joseph C. Grassi of Wildwood. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jones's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Salem or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jones $49,500 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.