CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CN) – In Suffolk County jails, raw sewage bubbles up through the drains, vermin roam the cafeterias, black mold coats the shower floors, and the air vents circulate the constant odor of rust and human waste, current and former prisoners claim in Federal Court.
Filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union and a private firm, the 42-page complaint centers on jails in Riverhead and Yaphank, N.Y., that house individuals awaiting sentencing or trial.
“Nobody should be forced to live in the sickening conditions that exist in the Suffolk County jails,” NYCLU’s Suffolk County Chapter director Amol Sinha said in a statement. “That county officials have allowed such horrendous conditions to persist for years is simply shameful.”
Shearman & Sterling attorney Daniel Laguardia, joining the NYCLU, noted that more than 100 detainees filed lawsuits individually over the deplorable conditions. A federal judge consolidated59 of these cases in February 2012.
The named plaintiffs in the new class action – Mack Butler, Dashaun Sims, Clyde Lofton, Paul Alver, Kevin King and Rickey Lynch – say the prison conditions left them with intestinal illnesses, skin conditions, respiratory infections, fungal infections, nose bleeds, headaches, blurred vision and dizziness.
Several of them have not yet been sentenced, or were convicted of nonviolent crimes.
The defendants are Suffolk County, Sheriff Vincent Demarco, and undersheriffs Joseph T. Caracappa and John Meyerricks.
Claiming that U.S. courts have identified a fundamental rule of civilized life, the NYCLU says Suffolk County Correction Facilities hardly make the grade.
“The Fifth Circuit once noted, ‘No one in civilized society should be forced to live under conditions that force exposure to another person’s bodily wastes,'” the complaint states. “Yet night after night, the men confined in the SCCF – both at the Riverhead and Yaphank facilities – are forced to do exactly that.
“Even corrections officers at the SCCF have commented on the deplorable and inhumane conditions at the facilities, describing them as unfit for animals,” the complaint states later.
One corrections officer quoted anonymously in the lawsuit allegedly said, “I would not even put my dog in these showers.”
Inmates claim to dine on food seasoned with the rust and paint chips of the decaying kitchens.
“The men’s meals are handed to them through slots in the bars which are rarely or never cleaned,” the complaint states. “The slots are caked with rust, paint chips, and old food, all of which regularly fall onto the men’s food when the trays are passed through.”
To warn each other about rusty water, inmates will allegedly say, “They’re serving iced tea again.” They also claim to have found rats and mice in their food.
“At times, the served food has been partially eaten by mice,” the complaint states. “One prisoner witnessed someone pull what appeared to be a rat’s tail from the food.”
In 2006, then-newly elected Suffolk County Sheriff DeMarco tried to address rampant overcrowding, but his measures were “Band-Aids,” the lawsuit says.
“Suffolk County knew or should have known that its pattern of refusing to address overcrowding concerns and its policy of merely applying ‘Band-Aids’ – and allowing those Band-Aids to ‘fester for another twenty years’ – created a real risk of violating the men’s constitutional rights by creating conditions like those reflected above,” the complaint states.
The men seek an injunction and compensatory damages for violations of Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment; 14th Amendment due process safeguards for pretrial detainees; and similar statutes under the New York State Constitution.
They are also suing the officials for negligence.
The Suffolk County Sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.