TRENTON - The family of a man fatally beaten while being held in the Camden County Jail will receive $4 million through a settlement of their federal wrongful-death lawsuit, their lawyer announced yesterday.
Sharon Clark and Devra Seidel filed the suit in 2004 after their father, Joel Seidel, 65, of Cherry Hill, was found dead in his cell in the jail's mental-health ward on Jan. 27, 2004.
One of his cell mates, Marvin Lister, who was 35 at the time and had a history of violence while in custody, was accused of fatally choking, beating and stomping Seidel, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity last year.
"The settlement comes after a long, protracted litigation, the result of which will hopefully be the protection of the vulnerable and mentally incapacitated who are not only in the Camden County Jail, but in jails around the country," said Tim Kline, a Philadelphia-based lawyer representing the sisters.
In their original court filings, Sharon Clark and Devra Seidel blamed their father's death on jail overcrowding, inadequate observation of him while he was in custody, and a failure to move him to a hospital, psychiatric facility or his own cell.
Their lawsuit named the Camden County Jail, Camden County Department of Corrections and the county itself, along with corrections officers James Foster, James McIntyre and Dorothy Williams, Warden Eric Taylor and former Warden David Owens. Prison Health Services Inc. and Steininger Behavioral Care Services, both of which had contracts to provide services to inmates, were also sued.
"Joel Seidel's death was a tragedy," said Camden County spokesman Ken Shuttleworth. "The case had been settled by the county in order to put the matter to rest for all concerned, including Mr. Seidel's family."
The case led the jail to reduce the size of its inmate population, and require different uniform colors for minimum- and maximum- security inmates to help guards avoid placing them together.
"The county has long recognized the need for alternative- placement options for the mentally ill," Shuttleworth said. "A county jail in not the ideal setting for housing the mentally ill."
Seidel had been incarcerated for violating a restraining order and was awaiting a transfer to Camden County Health Services Center after a psychological evaluation found him in need of further care. He was being held on $1,500 bail, so $150 would have gotten him out of jail. *