Widow Blames Jail for Man’s Killing

Herald News
By: Richard Cowen
July 14, 2009

The widow of an inmate killed at the Passaic County Jail in 2007 has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that challenges the jail' decision to hold two prisoners admitted to the psychiatric unit in the same cell.

Sonia Aponte, widow of Ramon Aponte, claims her husband's alleged murder on July 6, 2007, could have been avoided if the jail had kept his alleged assailant, Samuel Ramos, in another cell while both prisoners were undergoing psychiatric evaluations.

The jail says the overcrowding forced it to house both inmates in the same cell, but Sonia Aponte claims it was a form of "retaliation" for a previous lawsuit that Ramon Aponte had filed against the jail, alleging brutality and inhumane treatment.

The lawsuit , filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Newark, alleges that jail officials made a "deliberate" decision to house Ramos, 19, with the 50-year-old Aponte. Once they were behind bars together, guards failed to monitor the cell, which was equipped with surveillance cameras, until after Ramos had allegedly beaten and strangled Aponte, the lawsuit says.

"First of all, these two men should never have been put together in the same cell," said Shelley L. Stangler, attorney for Sonia Aponte. "And once they were together where was the supervision? Where was the monitoring?'

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Named as defendants are Sheriff Jerry Speziale, Warden Charles Meyers and Deputy Warden Steven Meyers , along with other unnamed supervisory and corrections officers.

Aponte, a Paterson resident and the father of several children, was brought to the jail for allegedly violating his parole by failing to meet with his parole officer. Aponte was on parole for burglary, theft and making terroristic threats - and had been placed on suicide watch in the Special Detention Unit.

Ramos, also of Paterson, had been arrested on a carjacking charge. Once inside the jail he had what was termed a "minor altercation" with another inmate and was sent to the Special Detention for a psychiatric evaluation.

Bill Maer, spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said that under ideal circumstances, the unit would keep inmates in separate cells. But due to overcrowding, the two men were forced to share a cell.

Maer said on the day of the incident, there were 1,868 inmates in the jail - a facility that was built to hold 894. But over the years, the state Department of Corrections has increased the jail's capacity, allowing more inmates to be squeezed into the same space.

Maer said allegations that guards placed Ramos in Aponte's cell as a form of retaliation were "totally untrue."

"It was space issue, pure and simple," Maer said, "There was no retaliation. Our hearts go out to the Aponte family for their loss, but the department feels it acted appropriately throughout this entire incident.

Stangler said Aponte filed his lawsuit while an inmate at the jail in 2006, and that the case had not been resolved. She said Aponte was well known to the guards because he had complained about his treatment.