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$105,000 Settlement for Pennsylvania Jail Prisoner Assaulted by Tobacco Gang

Pennsylvania’s Northampton County agreed to pay $105,000 to a former prisoner on July 25, 2011 to settle a lawsuit alleging guards failed to protect him from other prisoners, some of whom were dealing tobacco with a guard’s help.

Aristotle Tarboro was booked into the Northampton County Prison (NCP) in August 2007. He was placed in minimum-security housing with four other prisoners, two with a higher security rating.

In a federal civil rights suit filed after his release, Tarboro alleged two instances of being assaulted, resulting in severe injuries due to guards’ “recklessness and deliberate indifference” to their duty to protect him.

A March 17, 2008 incident occurred after Tarboro told another prisoner, named Klotz, that a prisoner named Louis had stolen property from him. Louis confronted Tarboro several hours later. A fight ensued involving Louis and three other prisoners. One of them kicked Tarboro in the head and eye. Louis hit Tarboro near his eye and beat him with a mop handle. The fight lasted over an hour. It was alleged that guard Jackie Vazquez failed to make her semi-hourly rounds, and thus failed to stop the fight.

The second incident occurred several months later. It began when Tarboro noticed his cellmate dealing tobacco to two prisoners out of their cell. The prisoners left when Tarboro asked them to, but later had guard James Boehm electronically open Tarboro’s cell. Once opened, the prisoners assaulted Tarboro; he lost two teeth, required six stitches, received permanent scarring and suffered recurring headaches. He was left to bleed in his cell for an hour and a half.

Boehm told Tarboro that if he reported the incident, he would lose his parole. Boehm and the prisoners who attacked Tarboro offered him a pack of tobacco if he promised not to report the assault.

The settlement in Tarboro’s lawsuit came days before a scheduled trial. “I never like to see settlements that cost the taxpayers money,” said County Executive John Stoffa.
“We’ve basically cut our losses in this situation.” The county will pay $25,000, with its insurance company covering the rest. See: Tarboro v. Northampton County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:10-cv-00964.

The county, however, faces more litigation related to Boehm helping prisoners who ran a “tobacco gang.” According to a lawsuit filed by NCP prisoner John J. Mucha, whose complaint raises claims similar to Tarboro’s, Boehm was suspended for his involvement in “illicit and organized tobacco distribution” at the prison. Mucha said he, Tarboro and two cellmates were assaulted by three other prisoners with Boehm’s knowledge.

Stoffa confirmed that Boehm and Vazquez are no longer employed at NCP. Mucha’s case remains pending, with a trial scheduled for May 14, 2012. See: Mucha v. Boehm, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Penn.), Case No. 5:11-cv-00624-TR.

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Related legal case

Mucha v. Boehm