MINEOLA, N.Y. (CN) - The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to overhaul a Long Island jail, saying last month's suicide of an Iraqi War veteran marked the facility's seventh death since 2010.
"Since Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has turned a blind eye to this disturbing reality, we have no choice but to ask the court to compel the county to take this initial step toward finally treating people housed at the jail with basic human dignity," said Samantha Fredrickson, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union's Nassau County Chapter, in a statement.
The group filed suit in Nassau County Supreme Court on behalf of two current inmates at the facility who reported mistreatment of their ailments. Joseph Marone said he waited weeks to see a doctor after an ear infection caused blood to trickle from his ear. Paul Nanista said he was denied pain medication or even a doctor's exam after breaking a toe.
The suit against Nassau and County Executive Mangano seeks to enforce a 22-year old mandate that requires creation of an independent Board of Visitors to investigate inmate complaints and advise the Sheriff's Department on how to improve inmate treatment.
Nassau inmates have allegedly sent the NYCLU more than 200 complaints in the last year and a half about inadequate medical care and mistreatment that has caused the largely preventable deaths of seven inmates. The number of complaints has increased since the county turned over medical and mental health care duties to a new private contractor, according to the complaint.
Bartholomew Ryan, a 33-year-old Iraq War veteran, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was found hanging in his cell on Feb. 24, 2012. He had been arrested for drunken driving and incarcerated at Nassau for less than 24 hours. His mother plans to file a wrongful death suit, the NYCLU says.
Ryan was the fifth suicide in the facility since Jan. 1, 2010, according to the complaint. In 2011, the New York State Commission of Correction found that one of the suicides resulted from "gross negligence and gross incompetence" by the medical staff who treated the inmate. The NYCLU says that, during the same period, another inmate was beaten to death and a seventh died from a heart attack after the infirmary sent him back to his cell.
Nassau County is responsible for one-third of suicides in county facilities and 10 percent in all New York State correctional facilities, even though the institution holds just 2 percent of all state and county inmates.
The NYCLU filed its Article 78 petition to enforce a nondiscretionary duty of a government body by mandating that the county executive finally appoint members to the oversight board.
"People shouldn't be forced to live in constant pain because the county won't provide them basic medical care," Marone said in a statement. "I hope this lawsuit marks the beginning of the end of the county's cruel indifference toward people housed at the jail."