A 75-year-old New Jersey man believed to be homeless died in a jail cell after days of neglect in which he lay in his own feces, urine, and blood, according to letters and accounts from several other inmates. An unidentified guard who has been employed with the Burlington County jail for more than ten years told the Trentonian that Robert Taylor was intoxicated when he was brought in and required detox. But rather than escort him to a hospital, where officers would be required to stay with him at jail expense, they left him in a cell with little oversight or monitoring.
Taylor was placed in segregation, in a single cell with no mattress or blanket. He didn’t eat for days, and was “non-verbal,” in need of immediate attention, according to fellow inmate Sean Turzanski. Turzanski wrote in a letter that later became public that he could smell Taylor from his own solitary cell, recounting “horrific” conditions and that he asked staff on multiple occasions to take Taylor to the hospital.
He said officers who walked by Taylor’s cell would spray deodorizers and put a towel under the cell door to mask Taylor’s ongoing problems, as Taylor lay there without eating or drinking for days. Taylor was arrested on a charge of contempt of court arising from a disorderly conduct arrest for allegedly defecating at a laundromat. He is known as a recurring inmate and an alcoholic, but was reportedly deemed not suitable for psychiatric treatment.
“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.”
Another inmate who wrote letters about the jail’s neglect of Taylor, Jerome Iozzia, also wrote about his own neglect to his girlfriend in the days before he also died at the jail.
And another, Ed Forchion, was a cancer patient who was given a nine-month sentence arising out of a marijuana charge(and permission to take trips to California to smoke pot), even though medical marijuana became legal in the state in the interim.
Forchion, known as “NJ Weedman,” said of his decision to help Taylor, “I wasn’t motivated by hatred toward the guards. 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.”
An investigation by the county prosecutor found that the jail did not engage in any criminal acts.
Neglect and mistreatment have led to deplorable deaths in prison, particularly among the mentally ill. But even in jails, which hold inmates for short stints — sometimes just a few days while a minor charge is pending — temporary detention can become a life sentence when individuals die in law enforcement custody.
In September, a 60-year-old mentally ill man died in a jail cell on a shoplifting charge, hours after police tased him. And in 2012, a 22-year-old died in county jail of a food allergy while being held on a misdemeanor marijuana arrest — one of several deaths in that facility.
Turzanski, whose extended letter from jail went viral, said of his post-jail activism, “It’s amazing how you can go through this life being homeless and and no one cares … 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.”