Another Jail Lawsuit Costs Taxpayers

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UNION COUNTY—The Board of Chosen Freeholders has approved a settlement with a mentally ill woman who had parts of her feet amputated after she was allegedly released from the Union County Jail into the coldest night of the year wearing bedroom slippers and no jacket.

According to the complaint, Lynette Baker-Blevins was put on the streets by jail officials on Jan. 16, 2007, even after family members told authorities they feared she was not competent to care for herself and an assistant prosecutor arranged for her to be admitted to Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth.

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Baker-Blevins was jailed for violating a retraining order in November 2006.  Shortly after her arrest, a sister notified the Union County Jail that Baker-Blevins had a long history of mental illness and she was placed in the detention facility’s medical section, according to the complaint.

Assistant Union County Prosecutor Natalie Candela, who was assigned to the case, arranged a mental health evaluation after conferring with Baker-Blevins’ sister. Candela informed the woman’s sister that mental health professionals determined the inmate to be incompetent and that she was going to be admitted to Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth, according to the complaint.

Neal Daugherty, a lawyer assigned to represent Baker-Blevins by the Union County Public Defender’s Office, appeared at a Jan. 16 hearing and argued that there was no reason for the defendant to remain incarcerated, according to the complaint.

Another assistant prosecutor signed off on the release without verifying the status of her mental health or contacting Candela, who had left work earlier that day, according to the complaint.

A social worker from the jail informed the family that she received papers for Baker-Blevins’ release, but did not provide any additional information. Jail officials put her out on the street that night wearing bedroom slippers without a jacket, according to the complaint.

Baker-Blevins was found the following day outside Newark City Hall.She was subsequently treated for frostbite at University Hospital in Newark, where surgeons amputated several of her toes and parts of her heels, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit, Docket No. UNN-L-0297-09, was filed by Parsippany attorney Robert Winters on Jan. 15, leveling six counts against the county charging that Baker-Blevins was deprived of essential supervision, medical care and constitutional rights in addition to being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.

Tina Renna reported on the unioncountywatchdog.org website that the first public mention of the litigation made by county officials was when Freeholder Alex Mirabella moved a resolution approving the settlement the board’s Oct. 8 meeting.


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