MOUNT HOLLY, N.J. — In December, a 75-year-old man who was believed to be homeless died in Burlington County Jail while strapped in a “turtle suit” and lying in a pool of urine and feces, according to a supervisor inside the facility.
The man's name was Robert Taylor. And according to this inside source with more than 10 years of employment at the jail, Taylor was a recurring inmate; he was also an alcoholic.
“I was there when Taylor came in,” the source said. “And he looked really bad. A couple of us told the medical staff that he needed to go to the hospital because he was detoxing.”
But according to the source, Taylor was not taken to the hospital because two officers were required to escort him there, which would have weakened the manpower inside the jail. Moreover, the source said, sending corrections officers to watch an inmate at the hospital costs more money. There is a clinic inside Burlington County Jail, the source said, but an officer is required to watch inmates in there as well.
“We try real hard not to put anyone in the clinic if we don't have to because it takes a C.O. off the floor,” the source said.
So, Taylor was placed in segregation, where he laid on the floor for five days without ever eating a single bite of food or taking a single shower, according to two different sources who were there at various times.
The Trentonian obtained an email dated March 3 that was sent from Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi to Chair of the New Jersey Libertarian Party Jay Edgar. The email states that “this office” has “determined that no criminal wrongdoing occurred in the care of Mr. Taylor while he was incarcerated. The medical examiner determined that death was due to natural causes. Additionally, Mr. Turzanski was interviewed by detectives from our office as part of our investigation. This office considers this matter closed as it pertains to any potential criminal violations.”
The source said Taylor was stripped out of his clothes, strapped in an anti-suicide smock, which is sometimes called a “turtle suit,” and then placed on suicide watch in a single-person cell with no mattress or blanket.
At the time that Taylor was thrown into segregation, another inmate named Sean Turzanski was sleeping two cells away from him. And the sights and sounds that Turzanski describes are horrific.
Turzanski was originally arrested and charged with one count of robbery and two counts of shoplifting, but the robbery charge was later downgraded. He was thrown into segregation after fighting with two other inmates. Turzanski's parents bailed him out of jail last week after he wrote a letter describing the things he witnessed. The letter went viral on the Internet after another inmate walked it out of jail upon his release. But that happens later in the story.
According to the source, Turzanski continuously told the corrections officers that Taylor needed to go to the hospital.
“So, I took it upon myself to question every C.O., Sergeant, Lieutenant or Captain that entered segregation just to try and get some facts on who this guy was,” Turzanski said last week. “I had a feeling from the start that something bad was going to happen. Mr. Taylor was very, very weak; he could barely stand. The C.O.'s kinda guided him in, one on each side. Upon seeing him, I knew there was no way that he committed an act that deemed him worthy of being in segregation.”
Turzanski could not see directly into Taylor's cell at all times, he said. But he was able to document each time that Taylor's food tray sat untouched, which was 15 times in total, he said. And over those five days, as Taylor defecated and urinated on himself on that cold jail floor, officers made degrading comments, but never offered any help, Turzanski said.
“I relied on two senses: hearing and smell,” Turzanski said. “I could smell Mr. Taylor rotting, I could smell the feces, and the urination; it was unbearable.”
Turzanski said that officers who were walking on the wing outside of segregation complained about the disgusting smell. But instead of assisting and cleaning Taylor, officers merely sprayed air freshener, Turzanski said. One officer even rolled up a blanket or towel and placed it under Taylor's cell door so the stench would remain inside the cell, Turzanski said.
Nurses walked by Taylor's cell every day to administer medication, Turzanski said, but Taylor couldn't speak or move. And the nurses never walked into Taylor's cell to physically assist him with taking the medication, Turzanski said.
Turzanski says that he once volunteered to help Taylor eat and take his medication, but the officers told him that was forbidden.
“I said, 'Put me in his cell, I'll feed the guy. I'll try and spoon feed him or something,'” Turzanski said.
So, according to Turzanski, he started yelling at the officers in charge, questioning them about ethics and humanity. Turzanski even dubbed the facility the “Burlington County House of Horrors,” which made some of the officers angry, he said. Then, some officers started threatening Turzanski for speaking out about their treatment towards Taylor, and the source corroborates Turzanski's accounts.
“They'd say, 'You better shut up, if you know what's best for you.' And, 'We're gonna come in there and break your jaw,'” Turzanski said.
Finally, on his fifth day of segregation — Dec. 30 — Taylor died.
According to Turzanski, after a supervising officer discovered Taylor was dead, a nurse allegedly said, 'I'm not giving him CPR.' So, the officer then ordered someone to grab the defibrillator, which took 10 minutes to find, Turzanski said.
Turzanski says that when paramedics arrived and saw nurses using the defibrillator on Taylor, they told them to stop because it was apparent that rigor mortis had already begun.
After Taylor's death, Turzanski was removed from segregation for a few days. But when he returned, Turzanski was assigned to Taylor's old cell, he says. Turzanski says that he was told that the toilet in his previous cell was broken, therefore he had to sleep in Taylor's cell. And although he was given a proper mattress and blanket, Turzanski said the stench in the cell was “unbearable.”
“I was told to clean it up,” Turzanski said, noting that he did not visually see excrement in the cell. “The smell bothered me.”
Eventually, Turzanski was released from segregation and that's when he began writing letters documenting the sights and sounds he heard in regards to Taylor's death. At first he wrote short letters to fellow inmates. But one day he met Ed Forchion, also known as NJ Weedman, and the two of them then worked together to send additional letters to activists outside the jail. Then, in late January, as Forchion was about to be released from jail, Turzanski wrote a detailed six-page letter outlining the circumstances surrounding Taylor's deterioration and ultimate demise. And Forchion posted that letter on the Internet. He also gave a copy of the letter to the FBI.
“I wasn't motivated by hatred toward the guards,” Forchion said in a recent conversation. “I had no issues with them. They actually treated me well. But I believe Sean's story. I know it's wrong to leave a dog in a hot car, and this was an old man in a cold cell.”
According to the source, after Turzanski's letter went viral, “S**t hit the fan” inside the jail. And Warden Lawrence Artis then approached Turzanski in the recreation room and tried to start a fight, the source and Turzanski said.
“I was there when it happened,” the source said. “The Warden was furious about the letter. So, Sean was pretty much public enemy number one.”
According to the source, Warden Artis approached Turzanski and said, “Keep your f***ing mouth shut, you didn't see nothing in the cell.”
The source says that Turzanski never made a confrontational move toward the Warden nor any other officer, and that he never raised his voice while talking to Warden Artis. But as Turzanski tried to explain that the letter was true, the Warden “called a code,” the source said.
Turzanski was then thrown into segregation for another 15 days. But instead of being released back into general population after that 15-day stint, officers ruled that Turzanski “can't behave in population” due to a “conflict with the Warden and other officer,” according to jail documents obtained by The Trentonian.
So, Turzanski was then placed in what the jail now calls “administrative hold,” according to jail documents, where he stayed until his parents bailed him out.
“The Warden said that after Sean gets out of SEG, we should put him in AD-SEG,” the source said.
Turzanski's parents bailed him out of jail after they received word from their son that his life may be in danger. The source says there were rumors of officers looking for inmates to assault Turzanski.
Turzanski is now in the process of filing legal action against Burlington County Jail.
Burlington County Prosecutors told The Trentonian that Taylor was taken into the jail on Dec. 20, 10 days before he died. The source and Turzanski both say that Taylor was in segregation for only five days.
Questions remain about whether prosecutors are still investigating Taylor's death. Turzanski plans to find answers to those questions one way or another.
“It's amazing how you can go through this life being homeless and and no one cares,” Turzanski said. “When you enter jail as a murderer or a drug dealer, you get double food trays a day, and the guards take care of you. You're one of their homeboys from the street, and you're given better treatment.
“The mentally ill, though, are forgotten.”