New Bedford Wrongful Death Lawsuit Gets Go-Ahead
BOSTON — A wrongful death lawsuit against the city of New Bedford and the county sheriff's office stemming from the 2013 death of Egidio Batista in protective custody has been allowed to proceed by the state's highest court.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court released a decision Friday upholding a lower court's decision allowing the case to go to trial.
Batista died in July 2013 at the age of 59 after he was shoved while drunk and hurt his head during an altercation with a cellmate at New Bedford's Ash Street Jail.
The cellmate, Luis Mojica, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in 2016 and was sentenced to serve one and a half years in jail for the offense.
According to the facts of the case cited in the state supreme court's decision, on July 20, 2013, Batista got extremely drunk and went home, where his daughter Natasha Baptista lived with her young children.
Baptista called New Bedford police to deal with her father after he became, as the decision reads, "a drunken nuisance," screaming and banging on the door.
Police arrived and took Batista into protective custody out of concerns that he could injure himself, booking him without arresting him at the police station and then taking him to the jail to be held until he sobered up.
But he was placed in a cell with four other people, including Mojica, who had been arrested on criminal charges.
Read the Supreme Judicial Court decision
In the ensuing altercation, Mojica shoved Batista, who fell over and hit his head on the cell floor, causing him to start bleeding.
Bristol County Sheriff's Office staff called an ambulance and Batista was taken to St. Luke's Hospital with head trauma.
An emergency surgery removed blood clots from his brain, but despite the efforts of medical staff, Batista died early the next day.
His daughter Natasha Baptista later sued the Bristol County Sheriff's Office and the city of New Bedford for negligence and wrongful death in her father's case.
Both the city and the sheriff's office had claimed qualified immunity and asked for a summary judgment, which would allow a judge to decide the case quickly, without bringing it to trial.
But according to the court, neither the city nor the office are immune from liability in the case, in part because the officers involved brought Batista — who was not under arrest — to a county jail facility.
The court wrote in its decision that state laws clearly mandate that people in protective custody be brought to a police station.
"A county jail is not a police station," the court wrote in its 34-page decision.
The case will now likely move to trial.