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Connecticut City Settles Suit Over Prisoner’s Suicide for $1,393,000

On December 10, 2019, the City of Meriden, Connecticut, settled for $1,393,000 a lawsuit brought by the estate, minor son, and minor daughter of a woman who committed suicide while being held at the Meriden Police Department.

Late in the evening of January 18, 2016, Meriden city Police Officer Mark Novak responded to a complaint about excessive noise. He encountered Erica A. Moreno, 29, and arrested her after he discovered that she had an outstanding warrant. He took her to the police department and searched her, removing her hair ties and shoes laces. Soon after, Officer Margaret Smusz performed a more thorough search of Moreno and took some small earrings from her. Then Officer Jimmy Fong escorted Moreno to a women’s holding cell.

None of the officers confiscated the drawstring to Moreno’s sweatpants or performed a suicide-risk evaluation on her. At about 3:25 a.m., Sgt. Michael Boothroyd found Moreno in her cell hanging from the drawstring. He had her transported to a local hospital. She was flown by helicopter to a larger hospital, where she died a week later. A search of her cell turned up a small metal cylinder in the toilet.

Aided by New Haven attorneys Steven J. Errante, Marisa A. Bellair, and Daniel P. Scholfield, Moreno’s estate and two minor children filed a state lawsuit alleging negligence against the city, the police department, and eight named police officers.

An internal investigation concluded that Fong and Smusz violated policy by failing to remove the drawstring and canister and failing to properly monitor Moreno. They were given 15-day suspensions with an additional 15 days of suspension held in abeyance for two years.

Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn said the city’s insurance carrier decided to settle the lawsuit and the decision did not require approval by the City Counsel. The insurance policy has a $100,000 deductible, which the city will pay. The agreement to settle was reached in June 2019 but not completed until December of that year. See: Cortes v. City of Meriden, Superior Ct., Judicial District of New Haven, Case No. NNH-CV17-6071272-S. 

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Related legal case

Cortes v. City of Meriden