Amnesty International is investigating the deaths of two prisoners at Pennsylvania’s Burlington County Jail (BCJ). The Prosecutor’s Office took the unusual step of responding to a letter from Amnesty upon conclusion of its own investigation.
The two prisoners allegedly died within months of each other of natural causes while held at BCJ. Robert Taylor, 75, a homeless man, died on December 30, 2013; Jerome Iozzia, 50, died on February 25.
Amnesty wrote a letter to the Prosecutor ‘s Office on February 10, calling for an immediate and comprehensive investigation into [Taylor’s’] death.” Sixteen days later, the Prosecutor’s Office replied to Amnesty in writing.
The letter, signed Deputy first Assistant Prosecutor James Ronca wrote that Taylor regularly urinated and defecated on himself and that he refused to eat several meals over four days. A psychiatrist found Taylor in “a deep sleep” on his bed at around noon on the day he died. A guard reported Taylor to be awake at 3 P.M., but he was found dead in his cell at around 4:30.
“[W]hile Robert Taylor’s death is certainly unfortunate, it was not the consequence of any actions or omissions by BCJ staff,” wrote Ronca, while also stating guards and nurses regularly monitored Taylor.
The fact of a Prosecutor’s Office provided information to an outside entity at the conclusion of its investigation is a most unusual occurrence. “It is not common for us to receive a question about an investigation from a group as widely known as Amnesty International,” said Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office. “So when we do, we try to respond.”
“I’m kind of happy they responded because of what was in the letter, in a way,” said Georgina Shanley, coordinator of Amnesty’s Cape May County Chapter. “Because the letter really indicates that her is a sick man, an old man, a frail man, who was known by the personnel in the prison, who was arrested, and he was just left basically to die, and it’s surprising the letter would be so explicit.”
A posting on the internet by a prisoner claimed guards left Taylor to die in his own feces. Iozza’s death occurred the day before the letter was sent. His fiancée says neglect caused his death and she plans to sue. Amnesty has no timeline on its investigation into the deaths.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
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