🔺 Man died after briefly being held in Atlantic County jail in 2019

🔺 The man, later found to be on drugs, was denied an early request to be taken to a hospital

🔺 A grand jury indicted 8 officers for their roles in the death

TRENTON – A state grand jury has indicted three correctional officers and five police officers on criminal charges stemming from the death of a 41-year-old man after he was held at Atlantic County jail.

Mario Terruso, of Mays Landing, died within 12 hours of being briefly detained on Sept. 15, 2019 — brought in on an outstanding child support warrant.

Two correctional officers have now been charged with manslaughter, while all the involved officers were indicted on misconduct charges.

Of those accused were several Hamilton Township officers who dropped Terruso at jail instead of taking him to a hospital for treatment of behavioral symptoms, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

Mario Terruso (Boakes Funeral Home)
Mario Terruso (Boakes Funeral Home)

🔺 Officers facing manslaughter, misconduct charges in Terruso death named by state

Investigators for the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability have said responding police officers opted against getting medical help for Terruso, instead bringing him to Atlantic County jail — where he experienced a medical episode as correctional officers tried to restrain him.

Interviews of witnesses, collection of evidence, review of video footage and autopsy results from the medical examiner have all been part of the state review.

Atlantic County Correctional Sgt. Eric Tornblom and Officer Mark Jenigen have each been charged with manslaughter.

Tornblom, Jenigan, and Correctional Lt. Jesse Swartzentruver each were indicted on official misconduct, in connection with treatment of Terruso in the jail.

Tornblom also faced a count of aggravated assault.

The grand jury also indicted Hamilton Police Sgts. Michael Schnurr and Nicole Nelson and Officers Servando Pahang, Cory Silvio and William Howze, on official misconduct charges in connection with their handling of Terruso on the day that he died.

Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)
Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)

🔺 Terruso picked up after 911 call of man entering home, acting erratically with knife

On Sept. 15, 2019 around 1 p.m., Terruso was detained by officers from the Hamilton Township Police Department who responded to a report of trespassing at a residence.

A homeowner called 911 and said that a man, later identified as Terruso, entered the unlocked house and was behaving erratically, picking up a knife and claiming people had been shooting at him. The claim of shooting was untrue, police said.

The homeowner declined to press charges — but officers took Terruso into custody because of an outstanding child support warrant.

Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)
Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)

🔺 Amid paranoia, other symptoms, police took Terruso to jail instead of hospital

While Terruso was handcuffed in a police cruiser, officers said he was showing signs of drug use, including paranoia and hallucinations — which would warrant a health evaluation.

Terruso also said that he had been throwing up and asked to go to the hospital.

Instead of waiting on a Sunday during a medical evaluation — investigators said Hamilton officers and their supervisors decided to take Terruso to the county jail.

Upon arriving at the jail around 2 p.m., as seen on body camera video from one of the township officers, Terruso is given some water from a bottle before he is walked inside.

The officers allegedly hid any information about Terruso’s physical and mental state, including his request to go to the hospital, according to state investigators.

While incarcerated over the course of several hours, his condition worsened.

Officers and medical staff noticed that Terruso was making gagging and hacking sounds and spitting up a black substance.

A drug test then revealed he was positive for methamphetamine and ecstasy.

Around 6:30 p.m., medical personnel wanted Terruso to be taken to a local hospital.

Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)
Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)

🔺 Body cam footage shows Terruso’s last minutes of consciousness in jail

One of the video clips released in 2021 by the state Attorney General’s Office is a 15-minute clip taken from a correctional officer’s body-worn camera.

In this footage, Terruso makes groaning, gagging noises from inside his holding cell, continuing as it is opened. He is restrained outside the cell while his vitals are checked by medical staff.

One of the officers can be heard saying “relax” — and then “stop f***ing resisting dude.”

Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)
Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)

About four minutes into the footage, the camera shakes and several sounds of impact are heard.

This is when Terruso was allegedly forcibly taken to the ground, struck by Sgt. Tornblom in the head four times and restrained face down, according to state Attorney General Matthew Platkin.

Terruso’s noises continue and blood is seen on the jail floor as an officer calls for a “spit hood” to be put on the man’s head.

By eight minutes or so, Terruso is no longer making audible noise, as correctional staff continue to tighten straps on a “soft restraint wrap.”

Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG) (3)
Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)

Around the 10 minute mark, an officer is heard saying “he stopped resisting, which is good, so we’re going to slow things down now.”

Roughly 14 minutes in, a leg iron is removed and the same officer checks for a pulse. He then says “Jesus Christ” — before yelling for a restraint to be removed and then starting chest compressions.

He calls for medical staff and says “bring them right in, tell them we have no pulse” and asks where an EAD is.

NJ jail death (NJ OAG)
Mario Terruso police custody death (NJ OAG)

🔺 Terruso taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead hours later

Emergency medical personnel arrived around 7 p.m., according to the state investigation.

Terruso left the jail in an ambulance around 7:25 p.m. and arrived at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Galloway by 7:50 p.m.

He was pronounced dead at 2:19 a.m. the next morning, Sept. 16, 2019.

“The municipal police officers who Mr. Terruso initially encountered brushed aside department policy, and the victim’s medical needs to avoid being inconvenienced,” OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher said in a written statement.

He continued “They improperly and unlawfully passed the buck to the county correctional system. It was there where Mr. Terruso was forcibly restrained and punched by those who should have been getting him the medical care he so desperately needed.”

The attorney general also shared a written statement while announcing the charges on Monday.

“In New Jersey, our police officers show compassion and provide help to people dealing with problems and distress on a daily basis, dutifully and often quietly doing the work that makes theirs such a noble profession,” Platkin said. “But for Mr. Terruso, those sworn to protect him are the very people alleged to have abused him in his time of need – leading the Grand Jury to determine that two of the officers involved are criminally responsible for his death.”

Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at erin.vogt@townsquaremedia.com

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