Family of CO who died from COVID-19 to sue NJ county for not providing PPE

Bernard Waddell Sr. was not given any personal protective equipment from March until his last day of work


By Rodrigo Torrejon
NJ.com

HUDSON COUNTY, N.J. — The family of a correctional officer who died from COVID-19 plans to sue Hudson County, claiming the officer was made to work with inmates who were likely infected with the virus but never provided any personal protective equipment.

Bernard Waddell Sr., one of the first New Jersey law enforcement officers to die from the coronavirus, was not given any personal protective equipment from March until his last day of work, said Paul da Costa, attorney for Waddell’s family. While he worked without PPE, Waddell was made to interact with inmates who his family claims were exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus that had hit New Jersey less than a month before he died, said da Costa.

Bernard Waddell Sr. was one of the first New Jersey law enforcement officers to die from COVID-19.
Bernard Waddell Sr. was one of the first New Jersey law enforcement officers to die from COVID-19. (Courtesy photo)

The tort claim notice, a notice to file a lawsuit, was filed Monday with Hudson County, said da Costa. A county spokesman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation

“The claim is that number one that Bernard, as a correctional officer, was not provided any PPE through March and up to his last day of work,” said da Costa.

Waddell Sr., 56, died April 1 from the coronavirus, one of the first law enforcement officers in the Garden State to die from the virus that as of that point had only been active in the state for weeks.

Along with a lack of PPE, Waddell’s family claims that Waddell was made to work closely with inmates who may have been positive for the coronavirus and that the jail was not taking anyone’s temperature or making anyone fill out a questionnaire prior to entry into the facility, said da Costa.

The family also claims that inmates who were exhibiting symptoms were not initially isolated, being taken back and forth to the infirmary, said da Costa.

The virus tore through the Hudson County Jail, with more than 60 inmates and employees testing positive for COVID-19 at one point in the spring, The Jersey Journal reported. Five jail employees, including Waddell, another correctional officer Zeb Craig and a longtime nurse Daisy Doronilla, died from COVID-19.

In a previous interview with NJ Advance Media, Ron Edwards, director of the Hudson County Department of Corrections, said that Waddell was an invaluable employee at the jail who would be “sorely missed.” Waddell was a senior officer who had attained the rank of corporal and worked in the housing unit, he said.

Edwards previously called it the “hardest beat in the country.”

Over his nearly three decades of service, Waddell had learned and was familiar with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) courts and the United States Marshals Service, often coordinating transportation for inmates and federal immigration detainees, said Edwards. Waddell had trained an estimated 50% of the correctional staff at the facility, said Edwards.

Waddell had various underlying health conditions and had been out of the jail since March 17, a county spokesman previously said.

Through the lawsuit, Waddell’s family hopes to shed light on what they see as a rampant failing on the part of the county Department of Corrections and other similar institutions to protect law enforcement officers.

“She [Waddell’s wife] does believe that Bernard did die due to reckless conduct on the part of the Hudson County Department of Corrections,” said da Costa. “She wants to bring a voice to her late husband and to those other law enforcement officers who showed up to work everyday to fulfill their duty and were unfortunately needlessly endangered by not being given the bare minimum protective equipment.”

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(c)2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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