N.J. jail inmate who died allegedly pleaded for water, vomited blood as staff laughed

Mario Terruso's death is being investigated by the state office of the attorney general.

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By Janelle Griffith

A New Jersey man who died in custody this week pleaded for water and coughed up blood as staff at a county jail laughed and joked, said another inmate.

Mario Terruso, 41, of the Mays Landing section of Hamilton, died at a hospital in Pomona, New Jersey, about 1 a.m. Monday after being transported there from the Atlantic County jail, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office, which is investigating his death, said in a statement.

Mario Terruso Jr.vi Facebook

The attorney general's office identified the man as Mario Terruso, while a funeral home's online obituary gave his name as Mario Terruso Jr.

Terruso was arrested on Sunday afternoon on a warrant and held in the county jail in Mays Landing, about 17 miles north of Atlantic City, the attorney general's office said. The jail told NBC News that the warrant was for failing to appear in court on a family matter.

The county prosecutor's office referred questions to the state attorney general.

Alan Wright says he was also an inmate at the jail at the time and that he has been friends with Terruso for 16 years. He recounted what he witnessed in a phone call to his wife, who wrote about it in a Facebook post on his page on Tuesday, before Wright was released from jail that evening.

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"I told her to write exactly what I said over the jail phone," Wright, 33, told NBC News on Friday.

Wright said that he needed to use the bathroom when he saw his friend in distress in a holding cell in the admissions area sometime around 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Wright said Terruso was pleading for water, stating he had swallowed something and that he then began dry-heaving uncontrollably.

"Nursing staff told me I couldn't give him water and said he was faking," Wright said.

Wright said that staff stood outside of Terruso's cell laughing and that they asked if Terruso acted like that on the street. Wright said he told them no.

"He began throwing up blood and his clothes were dripping sweat," Wright said, as recounted in the Facebook post.

"Nursing stated he was being combative and was fine," Wright said.

Officers tried to calm Terruso down but he refused to comply and instead begged to be taken to the hospital, Wright told NBC News.

"At that point, he was just not complying to staff and the sergeant ordered them to hog-tie him," Wright said.

Wright said more than five officers tied Terruso's hands and feet together.

"He just wanted help," Wright said. "Medical said he was faking."

The state attorney general's office said in a statement it is investigating Terruso's death, "including all actions taken by corrections officers and other staff at the jail leading up to and including his transportation to the hospital for treatment." Terruso arrived at the hospital about 7:50 p.m. on Sunday and was pronounced dead at approximately 1 a.m. Monday, the statement said.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office declined to comment on Wright's account of events, citing an ongoing investigation.