by Michael Rigby
The daughters of a mentally ill man who was raped and beaten to death by another prisoner in New Jersey's Camden County Correctional Facility (CCCF) will receive a combined $4 million from the state and the jail's mental health care provider, Steininger Behavioral Care Services.
Joel Seidel, a frail 65-year-old stockbroker, was arrested on December 27, 2003, by Cherry Hill police for allegedly violating a restraining order against his former wife and taken to CCCF. Officers and jailers knew that Seidel was mentally ill, and an intake form indicated he was "manic with delusions of grandeur."
When Seidel appeared in court on January 13, 2004, it was apparent he'd been beaten. He had two black eyes, swollen cheeks, and severe bruises.
That same day a prosecutor informed the jail that Seidel was being assaulted and needed protection. A second prosecutor reiterated this concern the next day. What's more, the judge in Seidel's case ordered prison officials to evaluate Seidel's mental condition so that he could be moved to a more appropriate facility. Despite the warnings and the order, jailers and Steininger failed to act.
On January 27 Seidel was celled with prisoner Marvin Lister, 35, who three days earlier had threatened to kill his previous cellmate. Lister also had a history of assaulting other prisoners--both physically and sexually. Jailers knew that many prisoners were afraid of being celled with Lister.
Soon after Seidel arrived in the cell, Lister began punching, kicking, and body slamming him. The vicious beating left Seidel with a lacerated heart, torn liver, fractured skull, and broken ribs. (Lister was later acquitted of the murder by reason of insanity.) Seidel was also raped somewhere in the course of being beaten to death.
Seidel's daughters, Devra Seidel and Sharon Clark, sued the County, Prison Health Services (the jail's medical provider), and Steininger, alleging violations of their father's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. No one responded when Seidel was being assaulted, according to the lawsuit, and jailers failed to monitor his cell. Also, Camden County "admitted that it 'knew there were problems in this jail,' and that 'the January 27th murder of [Joe Seidel] was not an epiphany.'"
The $4 million settlement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, is one of the largest in the nation involving the wrongful death of a prisoner. Under the agreement the Camden County will pay $1 million, the County's insurer $2.8 million, and Steininger $200,000.
"The Seidel family hopes that this settlement resonates throughout Camden County, the State of New Jersey and this nation so that vulnerable inmates like Joel Seidel can be protected from senseless injuries and death," said Tom Kline, of the Cherry Hill law firm Kline & Specter, who represented the daughters.
Sadly, before his death, Seidel could have been bonded out on the misdemeanor charge for $150 which his family refused to pay. At one point the jail had argued that if the family had paid the $150 bond Seidel would not have died. See: Clark v. Camden County Correctional Facility, USDC D NJ, 04-CV-1987-SSB.
Additional source: Spero News
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Related legal case
Clark v. Camden County Correctional Facility
|Cite||USDC D NJ, 04-CV-1987-SSB|