Plainfield man died of neck fracture while in custody at Middlesex County jail
NEW BRUNSWICK — David Yearby, a 27-year-old detainee at the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Facility who was pulled out of his cell and forced into chair restraints, died of a cervical fracture to the spine, according to Yearby’s family members, who talked to county investigators Friday.
But while investigators with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office were able to determine the cause of Yearby’s death, the exact timing of the injury remains unclear.
According to sources close to the case, investigators interviewed jail personnel, reviewed security footage and consulted with medical personnel, but still could not pinpoint when the injury, commonly known as a broken neck, occurred.
As a result, no criminal charges will be sought, confirms Yearby’s father Terrence Rhodes.
“I don’t agree with the findings,” he said. “You’re telling me that you don’t know when my son sustained a cervical fracture, but he is still up and fighting corrections officers before they place him into the restraints? That doesn’t make any sense.”
A four-month long investigation by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has determined that Yearby died of a cervical fracture of the spine sustained during a blunt force trauma, officials told the family today.
“He[David Yearby] walked into Middlesex County jail and was carried out with a broken neck,” said Gregg Zeff, attorney for Yearby’s family. “The family is going to review the investigation file. They are still looking for answers.”
Yearby, a 27-year-old Piscataway High School graduate, died on Nov. 2, just days after being placed into custody at the jail facility in North Brunswick.
He was arrested on Oct. 31 in connection to the alleged assault of two Piscataway police officers. According to interviews with members of Yearby’s family, he was placed into chair restraints after arriving at the county jail facility.
Investigators from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office released the results of the county medical examiner’s autopsy report at a Friday meeting with Yearby’s family.
In addition to the medical examiner’s report, investigators also informed members of Yearby’s family that no criminal charges will be sought in connection to his death.
Notes from the medical examiner’s report obtained by NJ Advance Media state that Yearby was involved in multiple physical altercations prior and during his incarceration. He was also forcibly removed from a cell by corrections officers.
The county’s investigation began in November, shortly after Yearby’s death. State law requires each county prosecutor’s office to conduct an investigation whenever an inmate dies of unknown or suspicious circumstances while in custody.
In November 2014 interviews, Yearby’s parents — Veronica Yearby and Terrence Rhodes — both said jail officials informed them that he was placed into chair restraints inside a “high visibility” observation cell prior to his death. Yearby was removed to an observation cell after engaging in an altercation with another inmate, his parents said.
A timeline provided to NJ Advance Media by sources close to the case confirmed that Yearby was in-custody inside a “high visibility” cell on Nov. 1 when jail officers noticed that he had clogged the toilet inside his cell with various items, including articles of clothing.
According to investigators, Yearby was combative with officers, throwing water and feces. He also refused to be handcuffed so that they could enter the cell and remove the toilet obstructions.
According to sources, pepper spray was used at some point before Yearby was forcibly removed from the cell by a six-person team of corrections officers. He was knocked down, handcuffed, taken to a medical station for treatment, officials said.
Yearby did not report sustaining an injury to medical personnel following the extraction, and was medically cleared by a nurse, officials told the family.
At 7:25 p.m. on Nov. 1, Yearby was forcibly placed into the restraints by corrections officers. At 3:23 a.m. on the following morning, jail employees found Yearby unresponsive and in respiratory distress, according to officials, who briefed the family.
Yearby was taken to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, where was later pronounced dead.
According to the notes, witnesses saw Yearby moving his extremities prior to being secured into the chair restraints. The notes also state that there is no documented record of Yearby making reporting an injury.
Yearby was, as per jail protocol, allowed the opportunity every two hours to move his extremities, the notes say. Whether he did so remains unclear.
Warden Mark Cranston could not immediately be reached for comment. In a November interview, Warden Mark Cranston declined to confirm for how long Yearby remained inside the restraints, citing the county’s then-ongoing investigation.
Protocol requires that facility medical personnel perform wellness checks on restrained detainees every 15 minutes, he confirmed.
YEARBY’S MEDICAL ISSUES
After graduating from high school in 2005, Yearby began attending classes at Long Island University. After six months, he transferred to Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, where he was arrested for engaging in an altercation with two campus police officers, family members said.
He was found guilty of aggravated assault in Delaware County, Pennsylvania in 2009 and sentenced to probation, confirms a spokeswoman for the county.
Yearby’s mother, Veronica, said it was around this time that her son was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and hospitalized. She could not say whether an underlying medical condition could have contributed to her son’s death, or provide details of those conditions.
Interviewed last year, Piscataway police chief Rick Ivone said Yearby was arrested on charges of simple assault of a teenager and aggravated assault on a police officer on Oct. 31. He was in the Middlesex County Jail awaiting a court appearance.
Yearby’s family has filed a notice of claim indicating they may file a lawsuit holding Piscataway and Middlesex County liable for his death.