County Council Approves Settlement Of Inmate Suit
WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Council on Tuesday approved a $250,000 settlement of a lawsuit brought by a former inmate at Luzerne County Correctional Facility who claimed he was severely beaten by a corrections officer.
The suit claimed that Edward Hernandez suffered a broken neck, a herniated cervical disc and a scalp laceration when a corrections officer used excessive force to subdue him during an incident on June 28, 2016, at the county jail, where Hernandez was incarcerated.
The county’s insurance carrier will cover $200,000 of the settlement, while the county will only pay the $50,000 insurance deductible, said county assistant solicitor Shannon Crake-Lapsansky.
Council discussed the settlement at an executive session prior to Tuesday’s voting session, Crake-Lapsansky said.
Council voted 9-0 to approve the settlement. Stephen A. Urban abstained, since he had not attended the executive session. Linda McClosky Houck was absent.
Urban asked if the incident had been recorded by cameras at the jail, noting that video evidence might resolve conflicting accounts of the altercation, which began when the officer said he smelled marijuana and ordered Hernandez and his cellmate to take a drug test.
County chief solicitor Romilda Crocamo said there was a video of the incident, but that it had not been shown to council members during the executive session.
At Tuesday’s work session, council members disagreed over whether council should support Gov. Tom Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania initiative, which would enact a severance tax on natural gas drilling and use revenue from the tax to pay for infrastructure improvements.
The governor’s office requested that council approve a resolution in support of the initiative, said Chairman Tim McGinley.
“I think it’s time the Marcellus Shale industry starts paying its fair share,” said Councilwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus. “I see this as an opportunity to provide wonderful services, infrastructure improvements.”
Councilman Harry Haas said he is skeptical about the plan. He worried that taxpayers, rather than drilling companies, could be forced to pay for the $4.5 billion bond that Wolf wants to use to fund improvement projects throughout the state.
“The devil is in the details,” Haas said. “This puts the taxpayers on the hook.”
When Waitkus said she regarded the plan as “a win-win,” Haas replied “it’s also a tax-tax.”
Council could vote on the proposed resolution at its next meeting on May 28.
At that meeting, council might also vote on a request to forgive half of the $50,675 in delinquent property tax owed on a vacant commercial property on Woodbury Street in Hanover Twp., formerly owned by Penn Refrigeration Corp.
The company’s attorney, Thomas MacNeeley, told council Tuesday that a prospective buyer for the property, Teos LLC, requested that the county, Hanover Twp. and Hanover Area School District forgive half of the delinquent taxes owed. The township and school district approved the request, MacNeeley said.
McGinley said council would like to see Teos LLC pay delinquent taxes on another property it owns before approving the tax forgiveness for the Woodbury Street property.
MacNeeley said the company has assured him it would pay the outstanding tax balance, which he said stemmed from confusion over where to send the tax bill.
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