This lawsuit seeks to compel Nassau County officials to comply with a 22-year-old unfulfilled charter mandate to establish an independent board charged with overseeing and reforming conditions at the Nassau County Correctional Center. The lawsuit was filed on March 21, 2012 in State Supreme Court for Nassau County on behalf of two individuals currently housed at the county jail. It seeks to force the county to fulfill its duty to establish the Board of Visitors, an independent oversight committee that has never fully operated since being established in 1990. The county charter authorizes the seven-member committee to respond to inmate grievances and advise the sheriff on programs that would improve the care and treatment of people housed at the jail.
Between January 2010 and March 2012, seven people died while in custody at the jail since January 2010, including five suicides. State authorities had indicated that several of those deaths were clearly preventable. Over the same period, the NYCLU has received more than 200 complaints from people incarcerated at the jail about the failure to provide necessary medication, the mistreatment of persons with disabilities and the utter lack of mental health services at the jail. The number of complaints has escalated dramatically since the county hired a private contractor to provide medical and mental health care at the jail. Many of these complaints point to the facility's inadequate grievance system. Plaintiff Joseph Marone was forced to wait weeks to see a nurse after noticing blood discharging from his left ear. By the time a nurse examined him, the bleeding had stopped, though he believes he suffered hearing loss. After injuring his hand and ribs in an accident involving his cell door, Marone was given over-the-counter medication that did not alleviate his pain. Doctors x-rayed his hand, but not his ribs, which continue to hurt him when he breathes. Marone filed numerous grievances complaining of this inadequate care, but the county and jail officials failed to address his concerns. Plaintiff Paul Nantista has had difficulty receiving medical treatment at the jail on numerous occasions. Most recently, he was unable to have a doctor examine a broken toe on his right foot. Though the toe was severely swollen, he received no pain medication for it.
According to the county charter, the Board of Visitors is to be composed of seven county residents who will serve three-year terms and have some “working knowledge of the correctional system.” The committee is required to have an office at the jail and access to jail records, books and data. Committee members would be appointed by Mangano and serve without compensation. In a ruling issued on April 3, 2013, Acting State Suprme Court Justice James McCormack found that the County Charter unambiguously requires the county executive to appoint seven members to the Board of Visitors. The judge ordered the county executive to appoint seven people to the long-dormant board.
State Supreme Court, Nassau County, Index No. 12-003630 (direct)