Nassau County jail officials failed to do enough to purge drugs from inmate housing following "a pattern of drug-related contraband" activity before a West Babylon man fatally overdosed on fentanyl in custody in 2018, a state commission found.
The New York State Commission of Correction’s report on the death of Kevin Rollins, 28, which Newsday obtained, comes after a two-year investigation by the oversight agency.
"The Medical Review Board has found that, due to inadequate facility policies for searches, the facility failed to take adequate precautions to assure the elimination of contraband in the building that housed Rollins prior to his death," the report said.
It also said Nassau jail officials "failed to respond to a pattern of drug-related contraband" in the building where Rollins was housed during the month he died "by not conducting thorough housing unit searches."
The commission recommended that the county "review and revise facility policies" to include indicators that would prompt a housing unit search outside of a routine biannual search.
The state’s report follows a recently published Newsday analysis of commission data that showed Nassau jail officials seized drugs or drug paraphernalia 237 times in a period of nearly four years, including marijuana, prescription pills, heroin and other banned substances.
Newsday obtained the state’s report on Rollins’ death, along with a letter Sheriff James Dzurenda sent the commission in November, under the Freedom of Information Law. He objected to the oversight agency’s preliminary findings and defended the East Meadow correctional facility’s search policies.
"We strongly disagree," Dzurenda wrote of the state’s findings.
In a statement Tuesday, Dzurenda reacted further by saying all jail officials "are constantly on the alert to detect, identify and prevent the introduction of contraband" using strategies that include "a dedicated response team that conducts searches" and "specially trained canines."
But attorney James Pascarella, whose law firm represents the late inmate’s mother, said the state’s report reinforced that the jail "is lax" and "ultimately responsible for Kevin's death."
In 2019, Susan Rollins filed legal action against Nassau County, the jail, the Sheriff’s Department and other defendants, citing claims that included wrongful death and civil rights violations following her son's deadly overdose. The notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, alleged "the smuggling of contraband drugs" into Nassau’s jail "has been an ongoing problem for many years" but "little has been done" to fix it.
"This report confirms that the facility does not do near enough to keep it out," the mother said. "And once the drugs are in the jail, not enough is done to find them and confiscate them. My son died because of that incompetence."
But the 60-year-old paralegal added that the report left "many unanswered questions," including when correction officers last saw her son alive and when he first got Narcan — the drug used to reverse overdoses.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's administration previously declined to comment on the Rollins tort claim notice, citing pending litigation. She declined to comment Tuesday on the state's report.
Rollins, a butcher who was training to be a plumber, was a West Babylon High School graduate who had done rehab stints while battling heroin addiction. He had been taking part in Nassau’s drug court program after pleading guilty to a felony charge following a 2016 arrest. But Rollins violated the terms of the deal that would have reduced that conviction, ending up back behind bars and expecting a prison sentence, according to records and his former attorney.
Police said previously that Rollins went by ambulance to Nassau County Medical Center after being found in cardiac arrest in his cell on Dec. 27, 2018. He died a day later while hospitalized.
The state’s report said that at 8:40 a.m. on Dec. 27, an inmate approached an officer in the jail dorm and said Rollins was not looking well before Rollins was found on his cell floor and didn’t appear to be breathing or have a pulse. Correction staff started chest compressions and the first medical staff arrived at 8:43 a.m. and also began treatment — resuscitation efforts the state found health care personnel failed to adequately document.
Later, authorities found a paper in his cell that tested positive for fentanyl.
The state’s report also documents other contraband-related incidents in the building in the days before Rollins’ overdose. On Dec. 15, jail officials confiscated Xanax, followed by a "large quantity of a white powdery substance" on Dec. 17. On Dec. 20, they seized a hand-rolled cigarette and a brown leafy substance, the report said.
Next, a "positive test for opiates" kicked off a Dec. 24 cell search. Then on Dec. 26, an officer smelled smoke in a cell, but no contraband was found in a search done later.
The commission found the jail’s policies "failed to identify that contraband found during a random search is an indication that a full housing search should be conducted."
Dzurenda, who took on his role in March, said in his response to the commission that searches at the jail recently had been increased "independent of this matter" and policies would be revised "to include explicit language" about what would prompt a housing search.
Brian Sullivan, president of Nassau’s correction officers' union, said the state report shows "much more attention needs to be put into the search policies." He also said delivery of two Tek84 Intercept Scanners that will target contraband smuggling has been delayed until mid-February. The machines transmit a low level of X-rays through a person’s body to provide a high-resolution image that can show the location of any hidden contraband.
Sullivan also said three inmates in the same dorm overdosed this month in separate incidents and had to be revived with Narcan.
Dzurenda said in response that "it’s not entirely unexpected that in the age of COVID-19" a delivery would be delayed a few weeks because of "manufacturing backups."
The sheriff also said "there is no evidence to suggest" the three inmates overdosed on drugs "as is confirmed by negative toxicology reports." But Sullivan said he questions the toxicology results because contraband was found in the cell of one of those inmates and medical staff used overdose protocols.
State Report Findings on Inmate's 2018 Overdose Death in Nassau Jail Custody
- Kevin Rollins, 28, of West Babylon, died from an acute fentanyl overdose
- A paper recovered in Rollins' cell tested positive for fentanyl
- Jail officials "failed to take adequate precautions to assure the elimination of contraband" in Rollins' jail
- Jail officials need to "review and revise" facility search policies