"On Aug. 28, the day he died, a hospital social worker called Cillo at home to check on his welfare and he responded that he was doing better. His wife brought the children to dental appointments, and upon returning home, found a suicide note. She called police, who went to the home and discovered Cillo in the basement."
Wrongful death trial begins over Harding officer's suicide
By Peggy Wright • Staff Writer • September 11, 2009
A civil trial is set to start Monday on a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the widow of a Harding police officer who hanged himself in 2003, a day after he was screened at Morristown Memorial Hospital for suicidal ideations but not admitted.
A jury of four men and four women was selected by Thursday afternoon to hear the wrongful death//medical malpractice claims, and opening trial statements are set to begin Monday before Superior Court Judge W. Hunt Dumont in Morristown. At issue is whether the hospital, through a social worker, registered nurse and psychiatrist named as defendants, was negligent and breached a duty of care to Harding Officer James Cillo Jr. on Aug. 27, 2003.
Cillo, the 39-year-old son of retired Mendham Police Chief James Cillo Sr., hanged himself in the basement of his Washington Township home. He left his widow, Janet, and three daughters, who then were ages 11, 10 and 5.
A key issue in the case is whether hospital staff and its crisis intervention workers who saw or evaluated Cillo on Aug. 27, 2003, were told that he had given all his personal firearms to his father for safekeeping, and stashed his service weapon at police headquarters. Cillo did not use a gun to end his life, but attorney Donald Belsole, who is handling the case for the widow, contends hospital personnel should have scrutinized Cillo more closely for suicidal symptoms if they knew he willingly gave up his weapons.
The hospital defendants, represented by attorneys Kenneth Fost and Michael Bubb, contend their clients did all they could to properly evaluate Cillo, who ultimately declined when asked whether he wanted to be admitted to Morristown Memorial. Cillo was accompanied to the hospital by his wife of 15 years and his father, the retired chief.
The lawsuit traces Cillo's anxiety and depressed state of mind back to Aug. 17, 2003, 11 days before his death. Working a midnight shift, he handled a case of a Harding resident who shot his disabled horse to try to end its suffering but didn't kill the creature. Cillo responded to the scene but failed to immediately seize the resident's firearm or check whether it was registered. He was chastised by his police chief for this lapse and feared he would be fired. He grew anxious and couldn't concentrate or sleep, according to court records.
Cillo tried to socialize normally with his wife and family for the next few days — going dancing and to a football game — but also sought help through the Cop-to-Cop crisis hotline. He met with a hotline social worker and his own family physician, who prescribed sleeping pills and gave him samples of anti-depressant medications. Still feeling confused and anxious on Aug. 27, he went to Morristown Memorial Hospital. One physician gave him medication to calm him down and an appointment was set for him to see a psychiatrist in a few days after he denied suicidal thoughts, court records said.
On Aug. 28, the day he died, a hospital social worker called Cillo at home to check on his welfare and he responded that he was doing better. His wife brought the children to dental appointments, and upon returning home, found a suicide note. She called police, who went to the home and discovered Cillo in the basement.