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New Jersey Jail Settles Chemical Burn Suit for $900,000

On April 20, 1999, Atlantic County, New Jersey, paid $900,000 to settle a lawsuit involving extensive chemical burns suffered by a prisoner forced to do calisthenics in a pit filled with caustic chemicals. David Zamot was a non violent offender sentenced to the Gerald Gormley Justice Facility (GGJF) boot camp in Mays Landing, New Jersey in 1996. The boot camp was a paramilitary outfit with guards acting as "drill instructors" who would discipline prisoners by humiliating them and forcing them to do calisthenics.

Zamot was found smoking a cigarette in a GGJF dormitory which violated Jail rules. As punishment, guards Kirk Manks and Henry Jamieson ordered Zamot to do calisthenics in a pit with about three inches of water and unknown chemicals in it. Zamot was wearing only sweat pants and boxer shorts at the time. When Zamot complained of a burning sensation throughout his body, Manks and Jamieson ordered him to roll his entire body back and forth in the pit.

Zamot ran out of the pit screaming and crying. When he entered the Jail dormitory his bare feet left scorched footprints on the tile floor. As a result of the chemical exposure, Zamot suffered first, second and third degree chemical burns over much of his body and was bleeding profusely from his scrotum. Zamot was taken to a local hospital, treated and returned to the Jail despite his continued bleeding.

Jail warden Frank Mazzone then attempted to cover up the incident by filling in the pit. Deputy warden Charles Zimmerman told Zamot not to get an attorney to file suit as he "would take care of everything." The pit was later found to contain ammonia, bleach, floor stripping fluid and sodium hydroxide. The chemicals were knowingly placed in the pit by prisoners acting on the orders of Jail officials. Prisoners had previously complained of the toxic and caustic chemicals in the pit.

Zamot filed suit claiming his state and federal constitutional rights were violated by his deliberate exposure to caustic chemicals. Zamot suffered first, second and third degree burns on his back, nipples, buttocks, lips, penis, scrotum and crotch, sustaining permanent injuries.

Atlantic county settled the suit by paying Zamot $900,000. The county did not admit to any wrongdoing on its part or that of its employees. Zamot was represented by Paul D'Amato, a sole practitioner in Linwood, New Jersey. See: Zamot v. County of Atlantic County, USDC, D NJ, Camden Vicinage, Case No. 97-CV-4220.

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Related legal case

Zamot v. County of Atlantic County