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Death in Custody Highlights Abuses

Zoran Teodorvic was housed in the mental observation unit of Westchester County Jail. (Family of Teodorovic)
Zoran Teodorvic was housed in the mental observation unit of Westchester County Jail. (Family of Teodorovic)
December 29, 2016

NEW YORK – A lawsuit over the death of a mentally ill man beaten by corrections officers in Westchester County 16 years ago still is making its way through the courts.

Zoran Teodorovic was being held on a misdemeanor trespassing charge when guards beat him at the Westchester County jail. Fourteen months later, he died of the injuries.

According to Manuel Moses, the attorney who brought the lawsuit, the officer primarily responsible for the beating has served six years in prison, but a second guard involved still works at the jail and the sergeant who allegedly covered it up never was prosecuted – facts Moses maintains were indicative of problems that were systemic in the jail.

"When an officer does something horrendous and there's a cover-up, it becomes much greater than the injustice of the act,” Moses states. “It becomes an injustice to all of us because the system is breaking down."

The lawsuit against Westchester County claims there was a pattern and practice of abuse in the jail, and deliberate indifference by county officials. Moses recently filed a motion for summary judgment in the case.

Moses points out that after Teodorovic's death, the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into abuses at the Westchester County jail.

"Finally, finding many of the same patterns and practices that we saw, not long ago there was as stipulated agreement with the county as to the changes that would be made," he points out.

The second guard involved in the beating was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony, and today he is a captain at that jail.

Moses says the promotion of the second guard and the failure to prosecute the sergeant who allegedly filed false reports about the beating demonstrate deliberate indifference by county officials.

"The commissioner is the one that said, 'He keeps his job,'” Moses states. “The D.A. said, 'We're not going to prosecute.' To us, that meets the standard to hold the municipality liable."

Teodorovic's mother and sister, who live in Europe and do not speak English, didn't learn the details of what had happened to him until five years after his death.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY