On July 11, 2013, the County of Cumberland agreed to pay $650,000 to the estate and heirs of a Vineland man who the heirs claim was beaten to death in the Cumberland County Jail on January 1, 2008.

In its suit, the Estate of Steven Charles Bell said that on December 31, 2007 Bell was arrested after an “apparent domestic altercation.”  According to the complaint, he was “alive and healthy” when admitted to the jail but was found “unconcious and unresponsive” in his cell at about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 1, 2008.  The estate claims that he “had severe head injuries consistent with being viciously and brutally beaten.”

The estate claims that prison officials “unreasonably delayed in calling 911” and that when paramedics finally arrived, Bell “was near death.”  He died in a hospital on January 10, 2008.  According to the suit, the Medical Examiner determined his death to be a homicide.

Also named in the suit was CFG Health Systems, LLC, jail warden Glenn Saunders and jail official Kenneth Lamcken.

The case is captioned Bell v. Cumberland County, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-0648 and the estate’s attorney was Nancy J. Winkler of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the estate’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $650,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Cumberland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the estate $650,000 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]