New Jersey Pre-trial Detainee’s Mysterious Death Results in $650,000 Settlement
by David M. Reutter
$650,000 settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a prisoner who died at the Cumberland County Jail (CCJ) in New Jersey.
Steven C. Bell, 32, was arrested on New Year’s Eve 2007 on charges of domestic violence after his wife accused him of pointing a 12-gauge shotgun at her. He was “healthy and physically well” upon his admission to CCJ.
In the afternoon of January 1, 2008, Bell was found unconscious in a holding cell. His estate claimed in a subsequent lawsuit that CCJ officials had rendered inadequate medical care and unreasonably delayed calling 911, adding that Bell was “near death” when paramedics arrived. He had brain surgery but died on January 10.
Bell’s estate noted that an autopsy performed by the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that his death was a homicide, and claimed in the suit that Bell had been “viciously and brutally beaten and criminally assaulted.”
That conclusion was just “one possibility” to be drawn from the medical examiner’s report, said Cumberland County Solicitor Ted Baker. “The incident showed no indication of a confrontation,” he stated.
“We don’t know if something medically happened to him or what,” added Vineland Police Lt. Thomas Ulrich.
Baker said the county believed that Bell suffered from hypoglycemia, a medical condition that occurs when a person’s blood sugar is too low. Bell required insulin and the failure to timely address his condition resulted in a hypoglycemic coma.
Although the cause of Bell’s death was disputed, the county agreed there was inadequate monitoring by jail staff. “Because of the absence of checks that should have occurred from the time of [Bell’s] onset of serious medical complications from hypoglycemia, we felt we wouldn’t be able to successfully defend this case,” Baker remarked when the settlement was reached.
Bell’s estate, which included his widow and two sons, was represented by Philadelphia attorney Nancy Winkler. Most of the settlement – around $353,511 – went to Bell’s children. See: Bell v. Cumberland County, U.S.D.C. (D. N.J.), Case No. 1:09-cv-06485-JHR-JS.
Sources: New Jersey Law Journal, www.nj.com
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Related legal case
Bell v. Cumberland County
|U.S.D.C. (D. N.J.), Case No. 1:09-cv-06485-JHR-JS