The unions representing Atlantic County corrections officers defended the actions of employees in a statement Friday after the death of county jail inmate Mario Terruso Jr. earlier this week.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #34, representing the rank and file corrections officers, and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #112, representing superior corrections officers for the county, issued a statement Friday calling Terruso's death "tragic," but remaining steadfast that officers at the jail acted professionally and did not cause the inmate's death.
"We are confident that the investigation initiated by the Attorney General’s Office will demonstrate and confirm that our officers’ interactions with Mr. Terruso were professional at all times and Mr. Terruso’s death was not the result of any intentional or negligent acts and/or omissions by our members," the statement received via email Friday said.
The New Jersey Attorney General's Office is investigating the Monday death of Terruso Jr., 41, of Mays Landing, at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Mainland Campus, after an incident at the Atlantic County jail, where he was in custody. Terruso's friend and fellow inmate Alan Wright, 33, of Ventnor, told The Press that he witnessed the mistreatment of Terruso the night he died and said he is cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation.
The union's statement indicated that correction officers were not in agreement with Wright's version of events.
"While we would like to correct the many false and misleading statements that have appeared in the news media over the last several days, we are prohibited by internal rules and regulations from commenting on the specific details surrounding Mr. Terruso’s death during an ongoing investigation. Given these constraints, it is important to us as professional law enforcement officers that the public recognize that our members acted appropriately and professionally at all times and that we are fully committed to cooperating with the investigation and look forward to the Attorney General’s findings," the FOP statement reads.
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Wright, who was released from the jail Tuesday, according to documents shown to The Press of Atlantic City, said he saw nurses laughing as Terruso dry-heaved and threw up blood, begging for water and medical attention. He said that Terruso had a confrontation with officers, refusing to sit down unless he could go to the hospital, and was punched in the face multiple times by officers as they restrained him.
County Executive Dennis Levinson also recently came to the defense of jail personnel stating,“It’s the toughest job there is, a thankless job, and we will support the warden and the corrections officers until we find out otherwise.”
— Staff Writer Colt Shaw contributed to this report