New Jersey Police May Be|Liable for Dead Arrestee

     (CN) – New Jersey police may be liable for delaying the medical treatment of a man who died in custody after being kicked in the head repeatedly during a parking lot brawl, a federal judge ruled.
     As Bobbie Lynn Pierce, her husband Joseph, 43, and some friends pulled into the parking lot of a diner near Cherry Hill Township, N.J. in 2007, a van almost collided with their Ford Bronco.
     Bobbie claims that one man got out of the van, punched Joseph’s driver’s side window, punched Bobbie near her left ear, and ripped her purse out of her hands and threw it onto the road.
     She says she soon saw her husband collapsed on the steps of the diner with three men kicking his head, while her friend tried to protect him by lying on top of him.
     When the men finally stopped, Joseph stood up, but was “very blank and pale,” bleeding from his nose and ear, sweating profusely, and unable to speak, according to the ruling.
     Police Sgt. Thomas Weber soon arrived and saw Joseph on his knees, holding a closed folding knife. Having learned that Joseph was a “strong suspect” in a stabbing that had just occurred, Weber had officers Evan Triveri and Ryan Del Campo arrest Joseph.
     Despite Bobbie’s explanation that her husband had been “kicked and beaten in the head” and needed immediate medical treatment, Joseph was handcuffed and held in the back of Triveri’s police car for about half an hour, the ruling states. Meanwhile, a police video shows the officers discussing “road rage” and saying that people were “kicking the shit out of this guy.”
     When Sgt. Brittian Henderson had Triveri take Joseph to the hospital at about 3:52 a.m. to be medically cleared for incarceration, Joseph was unable to answer the nurse’s questions. Within minutes of reaching the emergency room, Joseph was pronounced dead at 4:45 a.m.
     Though an autopsy describes his cause of death as “atherosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease” and the manner of death as “natural,” forensic pathologist Dr. Donald Jason reported that “[m]ultiple blows to the head by stomping causing concussion and cerebral edema [led] to cerebral hypoxia shock and sudden ventricular fibrillation and death.”
     Bobbie sued the township, its police department and the officers in New Jersey Superior Court in 2009, claiming they violated Joseph’s right to “prompt medical treatment” under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
     The defendants removed the action to Federal Court and moved for summary judgment, invoking qualified immunity over their actions.
     U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez denied the motion June 26.
     “The court agrees that Mrs. Pierce’s claims call into question what the officers knew or should have known, when they learned that Mr. Pierce needed medical care, and how they acted, or failed to act, throughout the incident, starting from their initial arrival at the diner and interactions with Mr. Pierce, who was then lying on the diner steps,” Rodriguez wrote.
     A reasonable jury could find that the officers’ conduct violated Joseph’s constitutional rights, the ruling states.
     “[T]he court cannot reject plaintiff’s argument that questions of fact surround the officers’ states of mind,” Rodriguez wrote. “Here, Mrs. Pierce argues that after knowing that Mr. Pierce had been involved in a fight, that he was non-responsive and unable to communicate, and ‘instead of following their training and summoning an EMT when they recognized that the prone Mr. Pierce could not speak or move on his own after having been involved in a Code 2 fight’ they told ‘Mrs. Pierce to “sit down and shut up” and put [Mr. Pierce] in the police cruiser.’ Plaintiff asserts that ‘[a] jury could find that defendants’ actions were not taken in objective or subjective good faith.’ Accordingly, viewing the facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiff’s favor, the court is unable to grant defendants’ motion on immunity grounds.”

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