CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) - A Vietnam War veteran can sue Nassau County after a rodent crawled out of the mattress in his jail cell and bit him on the penis while he slept, a federal judge ruled.
While Peter Solomon was being held as a pretrial detainee at Nassau's East Meadow facility in February 2007, he was bitten by either a mouse or rat, at which point he "pulled the rodent off his penis and threw it away from him," according to the ruling.
Solomon, who says he served in Vietnam and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was treated for the bite and received rabies shots, then released from the correctional facility a month later.
In 2008, he sued Nassau, the correctional facility, Sheriff Edward Reilly and Undersheriff Michael Sposato for civil rights violations and negligence. Solomon's original complaint also included a now-dismissed race discrimination claim against the supervising psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce David, who allegedly refused to give Solomon sleeping medication and stated it was "because the 'brothers' just sell it to other prisoners."
On Jan. 7, U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt also dismissed the charges against the correctional facility, Reilly and Sposato, but he said Solomon's claims against the county should be heard by a jury.
Solomon presented enough evidence to survive summary judgment, Spatt wrote, citing "11 formal inmate grievances regarding the presence of rodents in the facility within the 23 months prior to the plaintiff's injury, including: a petition by 50 inmates complaining about the presence of rodents; an instance where an inmate found a rodent part in his meal; and a situation where an inmate was bitten by a mouse and subjected to painful swelling."
Solomon also submitted testimony from corrections officers stating, one of whom reported having received "at least one hundred informal complaints from inmates regarding the presence of rodents in the cells," according to the ruling.
The defendants argued that they have pest-control measures, but that they cannot put poison or glue boards in locations where prisoners have access since the prisoners may use the poison as a weapon or use glue boards to hide contraband in their cells.
But Spatt found that the jail's exterminator, Bug Free Exterminating and Tree Spraying, had suggested other rodent-control measures that never went into effect.
"Based on this testimony that prisoners allegedly hoard food in their cells and that mice can and have been known to enter cells through the gap, a reasonable jury could infer that by failing to prevent inmates from hoarding food in their cells, the defendant did not reasonably abate the risk of harm," the ruling states.
"If the defendant knowingly ignored recommendations by Bug Free; failed to follow its own policy in reporting rodent related grievances; and failed to adequately enforce the rules against keeping food and other items in cells that may attract rodents, a jury could find that the defendant acted negligently in failing to prevent the plaintiff's injury," Spatt continued.
Solomon is represented by Paul T. Layton of New York, N.Y.