Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Lonely Death of Robert Taylor In Cell # 203

Burlington County (NJ) Detention Center
It's said the measure of a nation can arguably be gauged by how the least fortunate within it's borders and institutions are treated.

If reporter Penny Ray's disturbing cover story in Monday's issue of The Trentonian about the death of 75 year-old homeless man Robert Taylor is any indicator, the Department of Corrections in the state of New Jersey and in particular the Burlington County Detention Center are setting new lows for the standard by which America treats incarcerated people with health and addiction issues.

Ray's article is based on eyewitness accounts taken from an unnamed veteran prison employee who works in the Burlington County jail and an inmate named Sean Turzanski, a college graduate with no prior record who was locked up in the segregation unit two cells away from where Taylor was brought back on Christmas Day 2013. 

According to both witnesses the 75 year-old Taylor, a chronic local alcoholic nicknamed "Drunk Santa Claus" was apparently detoxing when he was originally taken to the jail on December 20th.

He was in poor physical condition and in desperate need of hospital care when two guards later carried him into the single-person cell number 203 in the segregation unit of the Burlington County Detention Center on December 25th, naked and tightly bound in a "suicide smock" which prevented him from moving.

According to Turzanski (who'd been locked in the segregation unit on December 24th for allegedly defending himself in a fight with two other inmates), a prison guard named Sgt. Nunn told him that Taylor had been locked up because of an unpaid $96 ticket and that it was cheaper to just put him in the segregation cell because taking him to the hospital or clinic would've meant having two guards escort him.

Upon seeing Taylor's condition when he was brought in, Turzanski claims "I knew there was no way he committed an act that deemed him being in segregation." 

Taylor was left on the concrete floor of the cold cell with no mattress or blanket, for five days; during which time he was unable to move, never touched food trays left outside the cell door, never drank any water, never showered and continually defecated and urinated on himself.

The smell got so bad guards began spraying air freshener outside the cell, and even occasionally opened the cell door to spray Lysol directly on Taylor; who remained in the same position the entire time he was there.

But no jail personnel went in to check on the man's physical condition. Eventually one guard actually rolled up a towel and wedged it under the door to Taylor's cell because of the stench coming from inside - even nurses who regularly walked by the cell to administer medication to inmates never bothered to go in and check on him.

Turzanski was so appalled by the smell coming from the other cell he repeatedly asked guards and officers about Taylor's condition and requested they help him, but they ignored the homeless man; even when he managed a few weak cries for help.

Taylor was eventually found dead in the cell on December 30th five days after being locked up.

Turzanski managed to get another inmate who was released to smuggle a letter detailing the death of Robert Taylor out of the prison. If you click this link and scroll down to the bottom there's a link to the letter and you can read the entire hand-written account, which is one of those hard-to-fathom tales taken from real life that reveal things about ourselves as a nation that we really don't want to know about.

Members of the New Jersey Libertarian Party took up Turzanski's cause in February. An article posted on their Website claims a representative from the Open Government Advocacy Project requested incident reports from the prison regarding Taylor's death but was told no records existed.

In her March 10th article in The Trentonian, reporter Penny Ray says the chair of the New Jersey Libertarian Party, Jay Edgar, received an e-mail from Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi stating that his office "determined that no criminal wrongdoing occurred in the care of Mr. Taylor while he was incarcerated. The medical examiner determined that the death was due to natural causes. Additionally, Mr. Turzanski was interviewed by detectives from our office as part of our investigation. This office considers this matter closed as it pertains to any potential criminal violations."

And so goes this horrific case of neglect of a homeless man effectively left in a cell to die for not paying a $96 ticket. It's a really sad measure of the Burlington County Detention Center's treatment of a human being and appalling indifference to suffering by prison personnel that they couldn't just take him to the clinic or a hospital.

Just consider for a moment what $96 gets you these days, or what it means to the Burlington County Court; it cost a homeless man his life. If Sean Turzanski hadn't fought to get the story told would anyone even have heard of the lonely death of Robert Taylor? 

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