October 27, 2007

County public information spin is as negligent and twisted as their prisoner care

It was brought to the Union County Watchdog Association’s attention this week that another prisoner held in the Union County jail was near death after possible medical mis-treatment. Allegedly several memebers of the medical staff have been released from their duties. The staff work for Correctional Health Services, the contractor in charge of medical treatment at the jail. The firm is a heavy democrat party contributor and has also contributed upwards of $10,000 to Union County concerts.

The County of Union uses it’s website as a campaign tool. Only fluff stories that mostly feature freeholders that are up for re-election are posted, negative press releases are only sent to insistent media.

When we learned that a press release was sent to just a select group of media and not placed on the county website we placed an Open Public Records Act Request for all releases sent to media outlets and was sent the following release which was issued 10 days after the prisoner fell ill and fails to inform us of any details while strongly implying that the county had nothing to do with this prisoners illness and care. Notice the county makes sure they mention the prisoner’s crimes in case anyone should feel sympathy for a human life and forget that this isn’t a ‘law abiding citizen’.

The county to date also refuses to accept any responsibility for the death of a 17 year old held in their juvenile detention center despite a report released by the States Child Advocate which stated “the county set the stage for his suicide” and other strong evidence of neglect of the center and its inhabitants. This lawsuit is scheduled to be officially settled conveniently after this upcoming Election Day.

An email to Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jean Kowalski asking for information regarding this prisoner’s health has gone unanswered. Because of the lack of public information and freeholder accessibility, the Union County Watchdog Association will now include asking for all press releases in our weekly routine OPRA requests. It is very tedious keeping an eye on Union County government, all the more reason for the need for government watchdogs.

Other recent prisoner deaths and abuses: In February 2006 The Star-Ledger reported that the county was facing its second lawsuit in five weeks for the death of an inmate who died in custody because of a lack of medical treatment. Aaron Pittman was convicted for drug possession. He died 18 days after he was detained and his medication for Crohn’s disease was confiscated. Another inmate, Donald Davis, died from an untreated stomach infection on Oct. 25, 2005. Davis was arrested and locked up at the Union County Jail 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. It was also found that a 22 year old prisoner had to have his voice box removed, and is currently fighting for his life, due to a cancer that went untreated. (Management in charge of the jail were given raises in December 2006.)

OPRA response:

From: Sebastian Delia
Sent: Thursday, October 25, 2007 6:07 PM
To: Marlena Russo
Subject: This is the one not on the website

October 23, 2007
For immediate release
Contact: Sebastian D’Elia
Communications Director, Union County


ELIZABETH--Jonathan Dawkins, an inmate at the Union County Jail, is in intensive care at the University Medical Hospital in Newark.

On Saturday, October 13th Dawkins had to be removed from his cell after exhibiting behavior that posed a potential risk to himself and those around him. During the course of his removal by a specially trained team of corrections personnel, medical intervention became necessary. Dawkins was transported by Elizabeth Emergency Medical Services to University Hospital in Newark.

Dawkins, a 35-year old resident of Newark, was in jail on Union County warrants for aggravated assault and resisting arrest. He had been in the Union County Jail since October 1st, awaiting pre-trial processing.

This information has been released following the notification of Dawkins’ family members.

The Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the County Police Department are conducting a joint investigation of the matter.