MANHATTAN (CN) - Passage of time will not help Westchester County dodge a civil lawsuit that followed a prison guard's conviction for fatally assaulting a prisoner in 2000, a federal judge ruled.
Westchester corrections Officer Paul Cote was convicted of assault for kicking in the head a mentally ill and homeless prisoner, Zoran Teodorovic, 46, in October 2000, when the inmate was being held in country jail on misdemeanor trespassing charges.
Teodorovic was comatose for more than a year and died in December 2001, shortly after Cote was released from prison, the New York Times reported.
After an FBI investigation, Cote faced a fresh indictment, and a federal jury handed the guard his second conviction. A district judge overturned the verdict, but the 2nd Circuit reinstated it on appeal.
Teodorovic's family, who lived in Serbia and Sweden, learned of his death in 2006, when the FBI tracked them down during an investigation.
Filing a civil action took even longer because his mother faced language barriers and had trouble finding a lawyer. She ultimately retained Manuel Moses, who became the plaintiff and administrator of Teodorovic's few worldly goods, chattels and credits.
Moses said in a telephone interview that he received his letter of administration on his birthday, Dec. 20, 2010, and he filed his pleading a day later, on the 9th anniversary of Teodorovic's death, a coincidence that he said underlined his "emotional connection" to the case.
Quoting Scripture, Moses said, "The blood cries out from the ground."
Westchester, its Board of Corrections and Cote spent the next four years trying to persuade three judges that the case should be dismissed because the 3-year statute of limitations had lapsed.
U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, the most recent to hear this dispute, agreed with his magistrate that the "totality of the circumstances" justified the delay, "including Teodorovic's mother's distance from the events that gave rise to the claim, her lack of English comprehension, and her lack of knowledge of both the law and the facts of the case."
On Monday, Ramos refused to grant Westchester permission to appeal this decision again to the 2nd Circuit, so the case will finally proceed to discovery.
Moses said he did not know how long it would take to get the case to trial or summary judgment, but that Teodorovic's family has expressed gratitude for help rather than frustration about the delays.
He declined to comment on the possibility of a settlement.
Lawyers for Westchester County Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment.