Luzerne County settles suit with inmate for $250,000

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - [email protected]
Luzerne County Prison, Water Street, Wilkes Barre. Luzerne County Prison, Water Street, Wilkes Barre. -

After meeting in a closed-door executive session Tuesday, Luzerne County Council decided to approve a prison inmate’s litigation settlement instead of waiting to vote later this month.

Nine of the 10 council members in attendance approved the $250,000 settlement with plaintiff Edward Hernandez.

The county must pay a $50,000 deductible toward the settlement, and the remaining expense will be covered by insurance, county attorneys said.

Councilman Stephen A. Urban abstained, saying he could not vote unless he had an opportunity to view prison camera footage of the incident involved because “two different stories” of what happened were presented in the litigation.

Council Chairman Tim McGinley said more explanation about the reasoning for a settlement was provided in the executive session that Urban did not attend. McGinley asked Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo if she could discuss any information about an “investigation” related to the matter that was discussed behind closed doors, but Crocamo said she cannot publicly talk about an investigation.

Hernandez alleged he was severely injured by county correctional officer Kristopher Renfer in June 2016.

According to legal filings in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania:

Hernandez maintained he complied with Renfer’s order to place his hands up against the wall so he could be handcuffed. While both hands were cuffed behind his back, Hernandez asserts Renfer pulled his arms up toward the middle of his back, causing extreme pain due to a prior shoulder injury.

When Hernandez objected to this treatment, he said Renfer “unleashed a violent assault upon plaintiff’s person” by wrapping his arms around Hernandez from behind, lifting him into the air and slamming him head-first onto the concrete floor.

Hernandez said he sustained a broken neck, a scalp laceration requiring 28 stitches and herniated discs in the cervical region and was transported to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital for treatment.

In its response, the county asserted Renfer, identified as a corporal, was able to place a handcuff on the left wrist of Hernandez, but the inmate attempted to pull away and became aggressive as Renfer asked the inmate to place his right hand behind his back so it could be cuffed.

“Plaintiff continued to resist, struggle, exhibit violent conduct, and disobey orders,” the county’s court filing said. “Due to plaintiff’s behavior, Corporal Renfer was required to use reasonable and necessary force to take plaintiff to the ground in order to properly and necessarily restrain him.”

Crocamo said video was captured and made accessible to the plaintiff and insurance company, but it can’t be distributed publicly due to prison safety issues. Urban said he believes video should be shown to council members if there are any future issues at the prison because council is the elected governing body.

Councilwoman Linda McClosky Houck was absent Tuesday.

In other business, council renamed the Pittston active adult center to honor the late Linda Kohut, a veteran county aging agency employee who was praised by many for her compassion and commitment to helping people.

Luzerne County Prison, Water Street, Wilkes Barre. County Prison, Water Street, Wilkes Barre.

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

[email protected]

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.