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NJ Civil Settlements

Estate of South Woods inmate who was allegedly told “You might as well kill yourself” by a corrections officer prior to his 2009 suicide, settled lawsuit against State for $304,419.25.

On September 4, 2019, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $304,419.25 to the estate of an inmate at a Cumberland County state prison who claimed that corrections officers did not monitor him closely enough even though they knew he was a suicide risk.  The lawsuit claimed that one of the officers, the day before the inmate hanged himself from a noose made of a bed sheet, told the inmate, who was begging to see a psychologist, to “Shut up. You might as well kill yourself” because “there was no psych available.”

In her suit, Joan Mullin, mother of Robert Mullin, the deceased inmate, claimed that on January 15, 2009 her son was in a halfway house operated by the Kintock Group when he started exhibiting aggressive behavior and was under the influence of cocaine and opiates. As a result, Mullin was transferred to South Woods State Prison and was diagnosed as being “a potential suicide risk” by a Licensed Social Worker causing him to be placed on a “Special Needs Roster” and housed in a “Close Custody Unit.”  According to the lawsuit, the prison’s rules required inmates in Mullin’s state to be monitored by corrections officers through “constant observation” via a video monitor until a psychologist or psychiatrist conducts an initial assessment and makes some determinations, such as whether blankets or sheets should be allowed in the inmate’s cell. 

Mullin’s suit claims that Nicholas Dimler, Eric Large and Robert Russo, the three corrections officers on duty at the Close Custody Unit when her son was an inmate there, failed to properly monitor him.  Dimler allegedly made only one round through the Unit during his entire shift and that Russo made what United States District Judge Freda L. Wolfson regarded as “troubling statements” that he should just “go ahead and hang [him]self.”  At about 4:23 a.m. on January 17, 2009, Dimler found Robert Mullin unresponsive, hanging from a noose made of a bedsheet. An effort to revive him was unsuccessful.

The Corrections Officers’ supervisors, Chief Ralph Yansek, Lieutenant Dudich, and Sergeants B. Stern and Thomas Spence, along with Nurse Jane Byrd, were dismissed from the case.  The Kintock Group also settled with Mullin for an undisclosed amount.

The case is captioned Joan Mullin, et al v. Jane Byrd, et al, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00247 and Mullin’s attorney was Shelley L. Stangler of Springfield. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Mullin’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Since the case settled, nothing in the record constitutes an admission of wrongdoing by the State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mullin $304,419.25 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.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project