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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Abuse Behind Bars May Leave Newark Liable

(CN) - Newark, N.J., must face claims from two men who say they were sexually and physically assaulted while unjustly held in jail for over a year, a federal judge ruled.

George Ramirez and Joshua Ruiz say they had been driving from a job center on June 3, 2009, to pick up a friend in Newark when cops suddenly surrounded them with guns drawn.

After officers forced the men to the ground and handcuffed them, a victim of a recently committed crime positively identified them as the culprits, according to the complaint.

Ramirez and Ruiz claimed that the victim was sitting in the backseat of a police car and not wearing his glasses at the time, however, while they were face-down on the ground.

The men were then allegedly placed in a cell for several hours - without having been read their Miranda rights or informed of the charges against them - and later held for five days at Newark Central Booking before they could see a judge.

Though they claim to have never been identified in a lineup or otherwise after the initial identification, the pair spent the next 13 months at the Essex County Correctional Facility, according to the complaint.

While there, Ramirez said unknown inmates repeatedly bashed his forehead into a toilet - a wound that took seven stitches to heal and left a 2-inch to 3-inch scar.

Ruiz meanwhile said he was both physically and sexually assaulted in prison, resulting in chipped teeth, hot flashes, cold sweats and traumatic flashbacks. He also claimed that the high-sodium food served at Essex gave him kidney stones, and that his incarceration ended his relationship with his high school sweetheart and mother of his child.

Though Ramirez and Ruiz were allegedly offered plea bargains three times while at Essex, they say they denied each offer, proclaiming their innocence.

After the county prosecutor's office ultimately dismissed the charges against Ramirez and Ruiz, they sued Newark and 10 unnamed police officers on March 1, 2011.

The six-count amended complaint seeks damages for violations of the plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendments and the New Jersey Constitution; malicious prosecution; negligent hiring; and "willful, unlawful, unwarranted, and intentional assault and battery." An emotional distress claim was tossed.

Newark later filed a third-party complaint, seeking indemnification from the county.

The county then moved for summary judgment on the third-party action, and Newark moved for summary judgment against Ramirez and Ruiz last June.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton partially denied the city's motion last week, finding that a jury could find that the arrest constituted a civil rights violation.

"One officer commented that the circumstances surrounding the underlying criminal incident did not make sense," Wigenton wrote. "The officers also mentioned that they did not have any reason to arrest plaintiffs. Nevertheless, plaintiffs were still arrested and jailed."

Though the negligent hiring claim against Newark failed, a jury may find that the plaintiffs' identification was "unreliable," the ruling states.

"Plaintiffs were not indicted for the charges for which they were arrested, namely, carjacking, kidnapping, robbery, and conspiracy with respect to victim no. 2," the unpublished ruling states (emphasis in original). "The fact that the grand jury appears to have indicted them under a conspiracy/accomplice liability theory with respect to victim no. 1 does not substantiate the initial charges. Here, a reasonable jury could conclude that the police officers lacked probable cause to arrest plaintiffs."

Wigenton tossed aside all claims against the county, however, having dismissed the prison as a defendant, and finding that the county is immune from the inmate-on-inmate claims.

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