Kane In Your Corner: Family wants answers for inmate's death

The family of David Yearby wants answers after he died while in custody at the Middlesex County Jail.

The family of David Yearby wants answers after he died while in custody at the Middlesex County Jail. (9/29/15)

NEW BRUNSWICK - There are new developments in an exclusive Kane In Your Corner investigation into the death of an inmate at the Middlesex County Adult Correctional Center. The family of David Yearby has filed a promised civil rights lawsuit against Piscataway Township, Middlesex County and the corrections officers who physically restrained him. The family is also questioning whether Yearby was given proper treatment given his history of serious mental illness.

Yearby, 27, died of a broken neck last November while strapped into a restraint chair and unable to move. On Monday, Kane In Your Corner showed viewers exclusive video of Yearby being violently subdued by Middlesex County corrections officers hours before his death. But the video raises more questions than answers. It ends with Yearby in restraints but apparently healthy otherwise, and offers no explanation as to how he suffered his fatal injury.   

To Yearby's family, the video raises questions about whether his treatment was appropriate for someone with mental illness. Yearby suffered from both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and when Piscataway police arrested him on assault charges last Halloween, the family requested that he be sent to a mental health facility. They say police refused, saying Yearby was scheduled for transport to the county jail, and would have to spend the weekend there. 

The lawsuit filed by attorney Gregg Zeff says "David's mental health condition was treated by Defendants as a crime, punishable by death." It accuses Piscataway police of failing to inform corrections officials of Yearby's mental health problems and corrections officers of failing to provide proper treatment, even though Yearby "exhibited signs of mental illness upon arrival, and throughout his stay at MCACC."

Veronica Yearby, David's mother, says she believes correctional facility staff simply thought her son was "being difficult," and says "If they would have given him the help that he needed, he would still be here."

Middlesex County officials have declined to comment on Yearby's death since the case is headed to litigation. But law enforcement sources say treatment of mentally ill inmates is a complex topic, since studies have found as many as two-thirds of jail inmates suffer from some sort of mental illness. Correctional facilities, they say, cannot realistically be expected to provide special treatment to all of them.

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