Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chairman James Curcio said Saturday that he will request that the board undertake “a comprehensive, administrative investigation” of the Atlantic County Jail following the hangings this week.
Prison officials said that 22-year-old Richard Michael Long Jr., of Ocean City, was found hanged in his cell Sunday, June 13 — but survived — and 24-year-old Laura Kaniper was found hanged in her cell in the medical unit Wednesday and pronounced dead an hour later.
The families of both Long and Kaniper have made allegations that they were beaten inside the jail, with Long’s mother, Elnora Haring, of the Pomona section of Galloway Township, saying her son’s orbital bones were smashed and his eye swollen shut.
“I know that periodically there have been suicide attempts (at the jail),” Curcio said, “but with two so close together, and the kind of allegations of injuries and the like, I do believe a study needs to be undertaken as to what protections and procedures are in place.”
In Atlantic County, the warden is appointed by the county executive with the advice and consent of the freeholders. Curcio added that he was going to meet with the Freeholder Joe McDevitt, chairman of the jail committee, on Monday to develop a plan for how to proceed.
McDevitt, who Curcio said was out of the county on Saturday, could not be reached for comment.
“We have young people, like this 22-year-old, who are entrusted to the care of that facility,” Curcio said. “Regardless of what they did to get in there, their safety has to be protected. ... It’s a terrible shame, and if there is more to it, we need to know that as well.”
Long’s uncle, Scott Long, said he was told by jail officials that Long resisted getting into a cell, was sprayed with pepper spray and was taken to an isolated cell, where he was found hanged about five minutes later. Officials told the uncle that Long jumped off a sink with a sheet wrapped around a vent.
“Between the pepper spray and the orbital bone broken around an eye socket, how much would you be able to do?” he said. “There’s necessary force and unnecessary force. Is necessary force beating someone’s orbital and breaking it?”
Scott Long, who said he was going to contact the state Attorney General’s Office on Monday, said his nephew wasn’t involved in any incidents during his previous incarceration at the jail, when he served six months at the jail — after grabbed the wheel of his girlfriend’s car while drunk, his mother said — and had just been released about a month ago.
Long was arrested in Ocean City on Friday, June 11, on warrant for simple assault out of Egg Harbor Township.
“He’s been troubled for a long time,” Haring said, “and for once, he finally decided he was going to live a decent life. And then all this happened to him.”
Haring said she had difficulty all week getting in contact with officials at the jail.
“The secretary of the warden told me that he was given the message and was in and out of the office in meetings that were more important,” Haring said in a message Friday night, adding Saturday that she was told he had other “priorities.”
“That really ticked me off,” Haring said. “I told her he may not be his priority, but he’s my son, and it was my priority.”
Calls to the jail on Saturday were placed on hold.
On Thursday — in response to Kaniper’s mother saying her daughter said she was beaten by inmates as guards watched — Warden Joseph Bodinskey said that there was no evidence that there was any “foul play” involved in her death or any beating by inmates or staff.
Kaniper was arrested in Atlantic City on aggravated assault charges five days before she died.
On Friday, Deputy Warden Geraldine Cohen said she couldn’t comment on Long’s incarceration and said no information could be released pending an internal investigation.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel, whose office is investigating Kaniper’s death, said in statement on Friday that in cases such as Long’s, where there is no death, the jail is in charge of its own internal investigation, adding that his office could intercede following a review. Housel had no comment on a possible freeholder investigation.
Long, meanwhile, has no memory of the last few weeks after coming out of a three-day, medically induced coma, his mother said. Under guard for the last two days, he was to be transferred back to the jail — but he was bailed out on Saturday by an unknown person.
“I have no clue up to this moment as to who that person was or why (they posted bail),” she said.
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