CAMDEN — A Bridgeton man filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Thursday against the warden of the Cumberland County jail and a handful of corrections officers for allegedly beating him while he was handcuffed during his 2017 arrest.
In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court, Eddie Waters, 49, alleged Officer Jarrell Saez and five other, unnamed officers kicked and stomped on his head then denied him medical treatment after his arrest for trespassing Aug. 1, 2017, leaving him with “head injuries, concussions, bruises and debilitating headaches” as well as psychological distress.
“From what I have seen, inmate Waters disobeyed a direct order to be handcuffed and initiated a confrontation with at least one officer, and he was issued disciplinary charges by the Department of Corrections,” said Theodore E. Baker, the county’s lawyer. “If force was utilized, then we believe that its use was appropriate, not excessive, and was justified under the circumstances.
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Waters is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury, as well as attorney’s fees.
According to the complaint, after “words were exchanged” between Saez and Waters, Saez put Waters in handcuffs and took two other people from the holding cell, leaving Waters alone. Then, Saez began “physically assaulting Mr. Waters without provocation or any lawful basis,” and the other officers — identified as John Doe officers one to five — entered and “maliciously kicked and battered Mr. Waters, including in the head, several times.”
Waters also claims Sgt. Vohland, whose first name was not included in the suit, saw the beating and did nothing, and Warden Richard Smith failed to train the officers involved “and/or implicitly authorized, approved or knowingly acquiesced in the unconstitutional conduct” of the officers, according to the complaint.
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Waters asked for medical help but was denied by jail medical personnel, who were also not named in the suit but are also listed as John Doe medical personnel one to five.
The day after the assault, a disciplinary charge was “reported and stated as a pretext for the beating, claiming that he was ‘refusing to obey orders,’” according to the suit, which was approved by Vohland.
Waters didn’t receive medical treatment until he was released from the jail Aug. 4, 2017, and went to the emergency room, according to the complaint. However, an Inmate Authorization Form said he did receive medical treatment.
Saez was fired from the Cumberland County Department of Corrections as a result of the beating, Waters claimed.
Solomon Radner, one of Waters’ lawyers, said that while he has little doubt that the “vast majority” of the officers in the jail follow the law and treat inmates with respect, those who don’t “must be held legally accountable for their actions.”
“Mr. Waters is bringing this lawsuit to hold the defendants accountable for their actions and to hopefully prevent further instances of officers savagely beating inmates and then denying them medical treatment for the injuries they suffered during those beatings,” Radner said.