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Eight indicted in Atlantic County inmate's death appear in court

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Three corrections officers and five Hamilton Township police officers charged in the 2019 death of an Atlantic County jail inmate appeared in court this week.

Mario Terruso, 41, died of methamphetamine-induced excited delirium and cardiac distress hours after he was brought to the Atlantic County Justice Facility Sept. 15, 2019.

An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, or OPIA, led to charges of manslaughter against then-corrections officers Sgt. Eric Tornblom and Officer Mark Jenigen.

Video released by the Attorney General's Office in April 2021, showed various footage included his final moments when he was brought to the ground by officers as he was hacking with his tongue out.

The investigation found that Hamilton Township officers took Terruso to the jail rather than to a hospital for treatment.

Now-retired Corrections Lt. Jesse Swartzentruver, along with Hamilton Township Sgts. Michael Schnurr and Nicole Nelson, and Officers Servando Pahang, Cory Silvio and William Howze were charged with misconduct for that decision.

“Mario Terruso was in desperate need of medical help,” Attorney Platkin Matthew Platkin said in announcing grand jury indictments against the officers this past April. “He pleaded for that assistance, but he never got the help he so desperately needed."

Tornblom and Jenigen were jailed briefly in Ocean County after their indictments for manslaughter, but released with conditions following separate detention hearings.

All eight defendant appeared before Ocean County Superior Court Judge Guy Ryan on Wednesday for a status conference. The case was conflicted to Ocean County.

Several members of Terruso's family were also there, including his mother.

A civil suit filed on behalf of his son against the county and others is on hold as the criminal case goes through the court.

Attorneys for the eight met with Deputy Attorney General Amy Knutsen and the judge in Ryan's chambers to discuss some issues with the case.

It was indicated in court that some had issues viewing some of the video evidence. The judge also mentioned the task of attorneys going through the grand jury transcripts, which total 672 pages.

The state has not made any plea offers at this time, but is expected to before the next court date, set for Nov. 2.

The eight defendants stood in the audience as the judge addressed the case. Pictures are: Jesse Swartzentruver, Cory Silvio, Nicole Nelson, William Howze, Servando Pahang, Michael Schnurr, Eric Tornblom and Mark Jenigen. (The photo has been altered to remove two unrelated audience members.)

Lynda Cohen

Lynda Cohen founded BreakingAC after working as a local newspaper reporter for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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