In light of the county government investigating two recent inmate deaths, the Board of Chosen Freeholders appointed Ron Edwards as the new director of the facility.
Troy Mack, a representative from Veterans for American Ideals – who has previously called for accountability after the two recent deaths inside the jail – implored the board to wait just 30 days before promoting Edwards.
Specifically, he wanted to see a plan in place for Edwards to take the state civil service exam for warden: a position that hasn’t existed within the jail for over a decade.
Noting that the ACLU, the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, Veterans for American Ideals “and all the other stakeholders which spoke at your July meeting” shared his sentiment, Mack explained why he felt tabling the measure was the best course of action.
” … Be tabled for one month until the gentleman both has the opportunity to develop a time frame, submitted to you, for the passing of the warden’s civil service exam and all investigations into conditions of the leadership team – to which he contributed – at Hudson County Correctional Facility have been completed and made public,” requested Mack.
However, Hudson County Corrections Policeman’s Benevolent Association 109 President Derrick James disagreed, stating it would do more harm than good to hold off Edwards’ appointment – which he felt he was eminently qualified for.
James also said that he was at the hospital bedside of Meza shortly before his passing, noting that his death was quite similar to the way his mother passed.
“The personal side of this that I will tell everyone in the room is that the signs he exhibited the night that I went to watch him on my tour of duty: my mother died from the same, almost the same condition … not the condition, but the way he was set up in the hospital,” recalled James, who said it would be a different discussion if the inmate died inside the jail.
“Tabling this matter doesn’t help bring the two people, I’m sorry for their families and their loved ones, it doesn’t help bring back the two people that were lost. What I will say is that we need a director. We are moving forward, things are progressing.”
Eric Taylor has served as the interim county jail director, at an hourly rate of $110 per hour not to exceed $88,000 in a six-month time frame, since the unceremonious retirement of Tish Nalls in November.
However, he has essentially been part-time, only required to appear at the jail three days a week.
Always outspoken Jersey City Freeholder Bill O’Dea (D-2) felt that James needed to better understand the unfortunate circumstances regarding the recent deaths of Rolando Meza Espinoza and Jennifer Towle.
“Obviously, the individuals from ICE that brought him [Meza] there brought the wrong guy to the jail! So to what degree people knew that, notified ICE, etcetera, etcetera, we certainly have an obligation to look into that matter,” O’Dea exclaimed.
“In the incident of Ms. Towle, again, where she was located, why somebody, whether it’s on the medical side or the correctional side … didn’t make a decision or determination early on that this individual probably shouldn’t be in this facility,” arguing that Towle probably belonged in a mental health facility.
Towle reportedly was found with her stomach filled with plastic at the time of her death, with some officials hypothesizing that she had been eating a meal tray.
The board passed the measure by a unanimous vote (8-0, with Jersey City Freeholder E. Junior Maldonado (D-4) absent), with Chairman Anthony Vainieri (D-8) stating that he felt Edwards was a good fit and waiting 30 days to appoint someone as director would serve no real purpose.
“I’m in favor of it because I think we do need stability there, as the [PBA] president spoke today, we have to move forward and get some discipline in the jail … Mr. Taylor is phasing out, we need somebody in charge and I think you’re the right guy for it,” stated Vainieri.
Addressing the board, Edwards appeared humbled by the opportunity.
“I believe that we have one of the finest correctional centers in the state: we’re good, we’re gonna try to go to great now. I’m very privileged to be handed down a great group of staff members, both law enforcement and support.”
Also at the meeting, the freeholders made good on a promise from last month to bring in an independent medical monitor to reevaluate the medical treatments procedures at the jail.
The board unanimously approved the resolution, which granted a one-year, $90,000 contract to the Chicago-based National Commission of Correctional Health Care Resource, Inc., by a vote of 8-0.