Burlington County, NJ Law Blog

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Man Dies in Howell Police Custody -- Family Sues

Was there justification for police actions used to subdue an intoxicated man that resulted in his death?

Sisters of a 38-year-old man, who died while being subdued by police at a musical festival last summer, have filed a 20-page wrongful death complaint in the case. They allege that the security officers and staff members of the festival used "excessive and unreasonable physical force" to restrain Timothy J. Harden, who, they claim, was experiencing a medical episode involving his consumption of alcohol and cocaine. They further allege that, once the police arrived, the officers used deadly force against Harden, effectively choking him to death.

The attorney representing the family maintains that, while they do not condone use of excessive alcohol or illegal drugs, Harden did not deserve the mistreatment he received at the hands of staff, security officers, or police. At the time of the incident, Harden was volunteering at the festival and ended up suffering fractured cartilage in his neck, as well as multiple contusions and abrasions.

The lawsuit, initiated on behalf of the Harden family members, names many defendants: the employees of the Howell Township Police Department, the sponsoring Priedaine New Jersey Latvian Society, Griffins Society LLC and Souper Groove LLP, and the individual organizers of the music festival.

Howell Police Chief Andrew Kudrick, Jr. has stated that he will personally review the specific elements of the case and determine whether any follow-up is necessary. Nonetheless, he asserts that, based on his "initial review" of the incident and his presence at the scene, that he is so far confident that the officers acted "properly and professionally," in accordance with all policies and procedures.

Despite Evidence, Questions Remain

Event organizers said that they originally called police to the scene because of Harden's disorderly, violent, and paranoid behavior. It was subsequently determined that Harden, who was fighting with the security guards, had both an elevated blood-alcohol level (.11 percent) and cocaine in his system.

While the owner of Griffin Security LLC reported that one guard was punched under his left eye while trying to restrain Harden, Harden's family is stilled awaiting more medical information on the precise cause of his death, stating that they have not yet received a police report.

After he was subdued, Harden was taken to New Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune where he was pronounced dead. The lawsuit claims negligence, use of excessive force, and civil rights violations. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified compensatory, punitive and other damages for surviving family members.

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