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Nassau County Jail: Suicides, Health Care Changes, Budget Cuts Prompt Calls For Oversight


SUICIDAL TENDENCIES

In the state Commission on Correction reports critiquing the jail’s response to each of the four suicides, none of the recommendations on how to prevent future deaths were as harsh as in Woody’s case.

Aside from admonishing the jail to retrain staff on protocol, improve supervision and keep better records—themes in all four reports, although each case is distinct—the commission also recommended that the state health department investigate two NUMC doctors for “gross negligence and gross incompetence” in caring for Woody, according to his report.


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NUMC spokeswoman Lotenberg said suggestions in the reports should be directed to the jail and Armor since the hospital is no longer contracted to handle the bulk of inmate health care.

“We’re trying to get to the truth,” says Robert Grundfast, the Stony Brook-based attorney representing the Woody family in a lawsuit against the county, jail and NUMC seeking $140 million in damages. “We just want to see who did what, when and where.”

Before Woody, 29-year-old Hearve Jeanot of Deer Park hanged himself in his cell on Oct. 27, 2010, just hours after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in what authorities described as a 2004 contract killing—following two hung juries and an earlier conviction that was overturned.

“Hopefully, greater precautions have been put in place to prevent further tragedies,” William Petrillo, the Rockville Centre-based attorney who represented Jeanot, tells the Press.

The two suicides that preceded Jeanot’s involved inmates with admitted drug dependencies—inmates who are plentiful amid LI’s heroin and prescription painkiller abuse epidemic—injecting yet another issue regarding adequate services at Nassau jail into the debate.

Weeks earlier, Gasparino Godino, 31, of Bethpage—known to friends as Reno—was found hanged in his jail cell Oct. 5, 2010, after he and his girlfriend were arrested for allegedly snatching purses to feed their heroin habit. And 10 months prior to that, 32-year-old Eamon McGinn of Brooklyn did the same on Jan. 3, 2010, after he surrendered to Glen Cove city police for stealing from his mother-in-law to score Oxycontin, the widely abused brand name OxyCodone prescription painkiller, and speedballs, a mix of cocaine and heroin.

Godino’s girlfriend was too distraught over his death to comment after she pleaded not guilty to robbery charges. McGinn’s family is suing the county and the hospital.

“They didn’t take him in right,” says John Nash, the Manhattan-based attorney for the McGinn family. “They didn’t medically assess the risk factor for a fellow who was an admitted abuser of drugs.”

The lawsuits come as the guards’ union maintains jail budget cuts will increase tensions and do little to keep such allegations under lock and key. They also come amid pushback from Sposato regarding some of the state Committee on Correction reports’ findings and remedial recommendations, according to Janine Kava, spokeswoman for the commission.

“These four cases are complex and are comprised of a significant number of issues and problems,” Kava tells the Press. “In some of them, the sheriff has accepted the Medical Review Board’s recommendations. In others he has refused to accept findings upon which recommendations are based and has resisted making any changes.

“Implementation of those recommendations the sheriff agreed to will be the subject of site verification visits over the course of this year,” she continues. “However, the commission will continue to insist that all of the Medical Review Board’s recommendations to prevent recurrence of these unacceptable outcomes be implemented. There are a number of actions the commission can take if compliance is not forthcoming, but enumerating them at this time would be purely speculative.”

As Nassau continues to wrestle with its fiscal crisis, advocates for the ever-increasing inmates at the county jail will continue to press for better oversight of the facility and the installation of a board of visitors. In the meantime, contend critics, at the heart of the matter is a battle to save lives.

“Add up all these ingredients that are County Executive Mangano’s and Sheriff Sposato’s budget menu,” Jaronczyk told the legislature, mocking the sheriff’s ascent from his start as jail cook. “Top that all off with a limited response that’s available to respond to these emergencies, and what you have here is a recipe for disaster.”

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