Update/Correction: According to the Division of Law Records Custodian: “Settlement was between the plaintiff and a private entity and as part of the settlement all claims against the State of NJ were dismissed as per order above.”

On June 22, 2012, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $1.5 million to an inmate who claimed that he was severely beaten by correction officials at the Bayside State Prison and received insufficient medical attention at both Bayside and South Woods State Prison.  Both prisons are located in Cumberland County, New Jersey.

In his suit, Lewis Williford, who brought his suit through legal guardian Wanda Brigmon of Voorhees, said that on May 2, 2005, prison guards entered his cell and “slammed his head against the wall and beat him.”  He claims that beating was “performed, orchestrated, condoned, planned and/or directed” by correctional officials John Clendaniel, Gary Sheppard, Clyde Koerner and Michael Bryan and was in retaliation for an administrative complaint that Williford filed against Clendaniel. 

He further claims that despite his head trauma, Dr. Vitaly G. Steinberg, Registered Nurse Claire Cantrell and Licensed Practical Nurse Beverly Timmons, who provided medical services at Bayside, failed to properly diagnose or treat him. 

Williford claims that he was transferred to South Woods the day after his attack and the medical staff there, consisting of Marci L. MacKenzie, Ph.D., Kevin Frank, R.N., Stephanie Kudla, R.N., Elvira Maldonado, L.P.N., Sharon Akey, R.N., Fran Green, N.P.C., Diane M. Hollenbeck, R.N., Abu Ahsan, M.D., Michele McAdams, R.N. and Narrissa Pierce, R.N., similarly failed to properly diagnose or treat his injuries.

Williford claims that the alleged beating, together with the alleged failure to diagnose and treat his injuries, caused him to suffer a hemorrhagic stroke on May 20, 2005, which left him incapacitated and “unable to ambulate himself, feed himself, dress himself or take care of his bodily functions.”  He is allegedly left with a “feeding tube to provide him with nourishment” and is unable to speak or “comprehend anything beyond basic instructions.”

The case is captioned Williford v. Bayside State Prison, Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-509-07 Williford’s attorneys were Jonathan M. Cohen and James Waldenberger of Philadelphia. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Williford’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Since the case settled, nothing in the record constitutes an admission of wrongdoing by State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Williford $1.5 million than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ 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 claims were true and the defendants 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.

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