Newly released video shows the minutes leading up to the death of a 22-year-old man in a New Jersey jail after he was forcefully restrained by prison guards.
A New Jersey court ordered the release of the video, which depicts the moments before the death of Amit Bornstein, reportedly a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel, after a request from a television news station backed by the ACLU.
The Asbury Park Press posted the six-minute surveillance camera video online at the end of November. On Monday evening, it was posted on the widely read Israeli news site Ynet, which framed it in the context of the emotional debate in the U.S. over police brutality.
“The U.S. is in recent weeks undergoing a large wave of protest against the brutal acts of police … [and] over the weekend, an Israeli angle was also added to the issue,” Ynet wrote.
The Asbury Park Press reported that the incident occurred July 29, 2010 when Bornstein, an aspiring professional poker player, was detained after missing a court appearance for disorderly persons and traffic violations. Later that day, within hours of being forcefully restrained by guards in Monmouth County Jail, Bornstein had died.
The video, which was taken by five security cameras, shows long minutes of an altercation that began during booking, continues into the hallway, and culminates in the room in which he died.
Bornstein became upset when he was told that state's child services might take his 13-year-old brother, for whom Bornstein was the primary caregiver while his father was traveling. (Screenshot: Monmouth County Jail surveillance video obtained by the Asbury Park Press).
As the video unfolds, it shows the different locations in which physical force was used on Bornstein, starting from the room in which he was booked, a hallway where at least seven guards worked to restrain him, another room where the suspect fell to his side repeatedly, and the "constant watch room," in which he eventually died, where at least four male guards stripped him naked even while a female guard was present.
At least four male guards restrained Bornstein on a cot and stripped him naked while a female guard was present. (Screenshot: Monmouth County Jail surveillance video obtained by the Asbury Park Press)
The Asbury Park Press reported that Bornstein became upset upon being booked when he was told that the New Jersey Division of Children and Families might take his 13-year-old brother, for whom Bornstein was the primary caregiver while his father was traveling.
At the end of the video, Bornstein appeared to convulse in the restraint chair into which he was strapped with an anti-spit mask tied over his face, perhaps either struggling to get loose or experiencing a medical occurrence.
After the burst of spasms, he stopped moving.
About 30 minutes of his sitting motionless, a nurse entered the room to check Bornstein's pulse and listen to his heart. He was then wheeled out of the room.
The Asbury Park newspaper quoted an autopsy report, which said Bornstein had been given a medication to calm him, that his heart slowed and he became unresponsive.
The paper further reported that jail staff tried to revive him but he died shortly after at the hospital.
The video is now part of a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bornstein’s father.
The Asbury Park Press reported:
Authorities who investigated his death say jail guards acted within reason. But Bornstein's father and lawyer claim in the lawsuit that the 22-year-old aspiring professional poker player from Marlboro was "battered" by corrections officers and that Bornstein "sustained bodily harm resulting in his death." The county said in court papers that its officers are not liable for the death. […]
The medical examiner determined Bornstein had a pre-existing heart condition that was exacerbated by a scuffle with officers. He ruled that the manner of death was accidental.
A Monmouth County investigation cleared the officers of excessive force charges, the New Jersey news site reported.
The Monmouth County Sheriff's Office said in a statement: "Mr. Bornstein's undisclosed medical condition, combined with his aggressive conduct, was the direct cause of his untimely and unfortunate death.”
Jeanne LoCicero, the ACLU’s New Jersey deputy legal director said in a statement: "Jail staff are responsible for the health and well-being of people in their custody. … When someone dies in their care, the public should have access to as much information as possible in order to properly evaluate the actions of correctional staff involved and the work of those who investigate the death.”
Here's the video (Warning: graphic content):