Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Disrepair of Paterson Jail Cited as Factor in Suicide

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Disrepair of Paterson Jail Cited as Factor in Suicide

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- In late September of 2009, a memo circulated within the Paterson Police Department saying seven of the jail holding cells needed repairs. Concrete on the walls had deteriorated, leaving iron bars exposed.

That memo went out 11 days too late for Ronal Fabian. On Sept. 13, 2009, the 22-year-old resident of 17th Avenue used his hospital gown to hang himself in Cell 6, where he was being held on domestic violence charges, court papers show.

The conditions in the holding cell loom as a key liability for the city in a federal lawsuit filed by Fabian's mother, Maritza Bonilla. In the original complaint, filed in 2011, Bonilla alleged her son died because he had been beaten by city police officers and did not get proper medical attention, putting him in a vulnerable mental state. She also accused the city of neglect for allowing his death while he was in police custody.

But in June, Bonilla revised her lawsuit, adding allegations involving the protruding iron.

Court records say Bonilla only learned of the maintenance problem that exposed the metal bar in the holding cell through discovery, a process in which her lawyer and lawyers for the city exchanged documents related to her son's death.

The amended lawsuit accuses the city of negligence, alleging that the protruding iron "created a reasonable and foreseeable risk of injury and a foreseeable mechanism by which a person could commit suicide."

Paterson Police Director Glenn Brown declined to discuss the case and conditions of the holding cells, saying the issue was part of ongoing litigation.

Bonilla's lawyer, Brian Gerstein, also declined to comment on the case.

Gerstein and lawyers for the city met earlier this month to discuss a possible settlement, court records show, but no deal was reached, said Domenick Stampone, the city's acting law director.

City officials already had retained five different law firms to work on the case, with different lawyers representing individual officers named in the complaint. Bonilla's lawsuit is one of at least 10 claims pending against the city involving the Police Department.

City Council members said they were not familiar with the Fabian case and declined to comment. …

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