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Cooper v. County of Camden

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 11, 2018

COUNTY OF CAMDEN, et al., Defendants.

          WILLIAM COOPER Appearing pro se

          PARKER MCKAY, P.A. Elizabeth M. Garcia, Esq. Counsel for Defendant Peter Farlow Sr.

          THE VIGILANTE LAW FIRM, P.C. Jacqueline M. Vigilante, Esq. Counsel for Defendant John Vernon

          THE OFFICE OF CAMDEN COUNTY COUNSEL Anne E. Walters, Assistant County Counsel Counsel for Defendants County of Camden, Camden County Correctional Facility, Correctional Officer Nnakuru R. Chukudi, and Warden Eric M. Taylor



         This matter concerns claims by Plaintiff, appearing pro se, [1]arising from an alleged physical assault by three Camden County Correctional Facility (“CCCF”) corrections officers while Plaintiff was a pre-trial detainee. All Defendants have moved for summary judgment in their favor on all of Plaintiff's claims against them. Plaintiff has not opposed Defendants' motions.[2] For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied without prejudice in part.


         On January 26, 2013, Plaintiff, William Cooper, an African-American Muslim, was a pre-trial detainee incarcerated at CCCF in Unit Three North when the unit was placed on lockdown. Plaintiff observed from his cell a corrections officer beat another inmate who was in the shower when the lock-down was called. Plaintiff claims that he yelled out of his cell to the corrections officer, “We see what you are doing, ” “He is not resisting, ” and “We know who you are.” Plaintiff claims that the officer responded, “What are you trying to do, incite a riot?”

         During the early morning of January 27, 2013, Defendant corrections officer John Vernon was informed of the incident. Vernon enlisted Defendant corrections officers Peter Farlow and Nnakuru Chukudi to accompany him to Unit Three North and speak with the inmates in three cells associated with the threats arising from the earlier incident. After entering the first cell, the officers visited Plaintiff's cell, which he shared with Craig Sanders. Either before or while he opened the door to Plaintiff's cell, Vernon shouted for the men to get up and face the wall. Sanders was on the top bunk and swung his legs out. According to Plaintiff, Vernon grabbed Sanders and threw him to the floor. Plaintiff claims that Vernon beat up Sanders while Chukudi held down Sanders's legs. Plaintiff further claims that Farlow stood in the doorway in order to block the video surveillance camera. Plaintiff relates that he witnessed the officers' interactions with Sanders through a gap in the sheet he had hanging up as a curtain covering the lower bunk.

         Plaintiff claims that during Vernon's altercation with Sanders, Vernon lifted the curtain on Plaintiff's bunk, pulled him out of the bunk onto the ground, and kicked him in the back of the head, causing his face to smash on the floor. Plaintiff claims that Vernon then resumed his assault on Sanders, and commanded Plaintiff to return to his bunk, which he did.

         Vernon denies kicking or otherwise interacting with Plaintiff, and believes that Plaintiff remained in his bunk during the entire incident. Chukudi and Farlow state that they did not see Vernon kick Plaintiff. Plaintiff states that neither Chukudi nor Farlow touched him during the incident. Sanders states that he did not see Vernon kick Plaintiff, and describes Plaintiff as having remained balled-up in the corner of his bunk, whimpering, and never leaving his bunk before Sanders was taken out of the cell. Sanders further states that when he returned to his bunk after his medical treatment, Plaintiff told him that after Sanders left, the “officers” returned and struck him in the nose but Plaintiff did not specify which officer or officers hit him.

         Plaintiff claims that he suffered a broken nose and was bruised in the incident. Plaintiff remained in his cell while Vernon removed Sanders and took him to receive medical care. Plaintiff did not seek medical attention that evening or the next day for his alleged injuries.[3] Plaintiff also did not file a grievance form about the incident.

         Plaintiff has asserted numerous claims against the three officers, CCCF, and its warden, Defendant Eric Taylor for violations of the 4th, 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as for ...

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