A Nassau County inmate who twice sued correction officers for alleged beatings has been hospitalized in critical condition after a confrontation with jail staff earlier this month.
During Jerome Washington's recreation period on Feb. 14 "he assaulted a staff member and had to be restrained," Elizabeth Loconsolo, general counsel for the county sheriff's office, said in a brief statement.
His family accused correction officers of bashing the right side of his head, which they said bruised his brain and put him in a coma. He also appears to have a small fracture or bruising on his spine, relatives said.
"I know he's been a troublemaker in life, but they had no right to whup him," said Kenneth Washington, his brother and an Alabama correction officer.
Loconsolo declined to discuss Washington's medical condition, citing privacy issues, but said the sheriff's office and Nassau police are investigating.
John Jaronczyk, president of the Nassau County Sheriff's Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said two officers were involved in the scuffle and both sustained serious injuries. "I am confident that the investigation will prove both correction officers used exactly the appropriate and legally permitted amount of force necessary to defend themselves and secure the inmate," he said in a statement.
Washington, 47, was in critical condition at Nassau University Medical Center on Friday, when he was moved from intensive care into a room.
"He opened his eyes and closed them right back," said his mother, Annie Washington, who moved to Alabama after retiring as a nurse from Winthrop-University Hospital.
In 2002 and 2012, Washington filed suit in federal court against the Nassau sheriff, certain jail supervisors and some correction officers. In papers, he said he had been "brutally beaten" several times and that officers sprayed Mace on his food and deprived him of medical care. His 2002 suit was dismissed after he missed a deadline, and the 2012 lawsuit is pending.
As an inmate, Washington has pushed for his rights and called the New York Civil Liberties Union several times recently about treatment and conditions, said Jason Starr, director of the NYCLU Nassau chapter.
Starr said Washington was spending almost all of each day in the "behavior management unit," where inmates are housed alone in cells.
"He felt like he was a vocal inmate who would assert himself if he didn't feel that he had been treated fairly," said Starr, adding that his group is pushing for an independent board to probe inmate complaints.
In and out of the jail and state prison during the past 30 years, he had pleaded guilty to charges including assault, drug possession and trespassing.
His family said he is mentally ill and was released about two years ago from Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood. He landed back in jail, this time after pushing a woman on a public bus, his mother said, and his family pleaded with authorities to send him to a mental health facility.
Loconsolo said Washington was incarcerated Oct. 11, 2011, after a felony assault that involved a Long Island Rail Road employee and resulted in his arrest by MTA Police at the Merrick station. Charges against him are pending, she said.
His mother and brother said they rushed to Long Island on Feb. 14 when a hospital nurse called about his injuries. They said jail officials have not explained what happened.
Over the years, the East Meadow correctional facility has had several inmate suicides, and allegations of abuse and poor conditions.
"We don't want him to go back to that jail," his mother said. "Never." With Zachary R. Dowdy