A 75-year-old man 'strapped in a turtle suit' was left to die in a jail cell in December as officers failed to help him even as he laid in a pool of his own urine and feces. The shocking conditions in which the man died were publicized in a letter written by an inmate from a neighboring cell.
75-year-old Robert Taylor was booked into the Burlington County Jail in New Jersey this December. An employee from the jail speaking on the condition of anonymity told The Trentonian the man was a recurring inmate believed to be homeless.
“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, the source said, taking an inmate to the hospital is expensive. In addition to the money it costs, it drags a corrections officer off of the prison floor to accompany the inmate. There is a clinic inside the jail, but officials only book inmates there when absolutely necessary. Taylor was placed in a segregation cell with no mattress or blanket.
Taylor was reportedly placed in an anti-suicide smock, also known as a "turtle suit."
Inmate Sean Turzanski was being held in a cell next to Taylor’s. In a now-viral letter, Turzanski says the sounds and smells coming from Taylor’s cell were horrifying.
“I had a feeling from the start that something bad was going to happen,” he said. “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.”
Taylor was unable to move in his cell. He didn’t eat any food for five days. The stench from his accumulated urine and feces was so terrible that correctional officers constantly complained about it. Rather than help him, officers chose to repeatedly spray air freshener. Nurses walked by his cell daily and dropped off medication; Taylor, unable to move, couldn’t get up to take it.
“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 offered to feed Taylor since nurses and correctional officers refused to. His offer was shot down. Turzanski began pleading with prison staff daily to help Taylor. Here are two excerpts from his note:
The Burlington County prosecutor's office “determined that no criminal wrongdoing occurred in the care of Mr. Taylor while he was incarcerated," said prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi upon Taylor’s death. "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.”
Turzanski’s problems began soon after Taylor’s death. Upon discovering his note, prison officials forced Turzanski to stay in Taylor’s old cell. Turzanksi said the cell still reeked of feces. The prison warden tried to bait Turzanksi into hitting him. A source from the prison said rumors spread that correctional officers tried to find inmates to assault Turzanski.
Upon hearing how dangerous their son’s situation was, Turzanksi’s parents posted his bail. He plans to push investigators to look further into Taylor’s death.
“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.”