In October 2008, Union County, New Jersey paid $130,000 to the mother of a Newark man who died in a Union County jail cell in 2005. Also, an August 28, 2008 letter indicates that Correctional Health Services, a private company that provides inmate health services, may have also paid $130,000 as settlement. And, it is unknown whether a third defendant, Nursefinders, Inc. contributed to the settlement. (Since Correctional Health Services and Nursefinders, Inc. are private companies, they are not subject to open public records laws.)

The settlement agreement and the August 28, 2008 letter are on-line here.

At the end of this posting is a Star Ledger article that gives more information on incident underlying the lawsuit.

The settlement agreement expressly states that the $130,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the County or any of its officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that the County and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Davis family and its lawyer $130,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the County’s decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the Davis family’s claims were true and the County wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.


I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Sometimes I run across settlements that may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, visit

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

County faces $10 million lawsuit in jail death – Man accused of stealing shirt died from an untreated stomach infection

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) – Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Donald Davis was arrested and locked up at the Union County Jail on Oct. 25 for stealing an undershirt from a store in Elizabeth.

Five days later, the 44-year-old man from Newark was found dead in his cell, from an untreated stomach infection – peritonitis.

His grieving mother, Vernita Davis , said her son tried to explain to prison guards his need for life-sustaining medication, but they swore at him and ignored his pleas.

Yesterday, she gave notice to the Union County Sheriff’s Department and Union County that she planned to sue them for $10 million in a wrongful death claim.

“My son should not have needlessly died over a charge of petty shoplifting,” said Vernita Davis .

“In effect, he got a death sentence for petty disorderly theft,” said Anthony Macri, the attorney hired to represent the Donald Davis estate.

Vernita Davis said her son died a slow, painful death that could have been avoided.

“I know from having spoken to people who were in the jail that he was crying out, yelling out in pain during this time and that the guards responded to his yelling out with pain with expletives,” she said. “I find that outrageous.”

Union County refused to comment on the case, said spokesman Sebastian D’Elia.

But county officials will eventually have to answer the charges.

Macri said his client died because his jailers deprived him of medical treatment. When Donald Davis was arrested, he was only days out of Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, where he was treated for a perforated gastric ulcer. Macri said Donald Davis told the guards of his ailments.

“We are alleging that as a result of their failure to give him treatment for five days, that led to this peritonitis and that was what killed this young man,” Macri said.

“There is no reason he should have been neglected,” Macri said. “There was a medical condition that required attention. There is no excuse. This man needed prompt attention and they were obligated to see that he got it and to go five days without anything, not even medication, is not appropriate.”

Donald Davis was unemployed and lived with his mother in an apartment in Newark. He did not have the $300 bail money, so he sat in his cell and told anyone who would listen, including his mother who visited him twice, about his stomach pains. Guards found him dead at 8 a.m., during their morning rounds. Macri said it appears Donald Davis had been dead for at least an hour.


Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]