Nassau jail officials recently have moved more than 200 alleged gang members to different cells in the East Meadow facility to combat violence, a strategy Sheriff Michael Sposato said he stepped up after two gang-related inmate slashings in May.
The ongoing transfers of inmates with suspected gang ties to different quarters of the jail is a new method the sheriff said he’s using to try to make the East Meadow facility safer.
“It’s just better if they don’t get too comfortable in their housing areas,” he added in a recent Newsday interview.
The violence follows a spate of gang-related inmate slashings in early 2016, including as many as five in a week in the wake of the arrest that February of a jail nurse on charges of smuggling razors and drugs to inmates. The criminal case against the nurse remains pending.
Sposato said the May 18 and May 22 slashings aren’t evidence of an uptick in gang violence at the jail. He declined to release details of the attacks, but said they remain under investigation and that there haven’t been any arrests.
But Brian Sullivan, president of the correction officers union, said in a recent interview that he believes there has been an increase in gang violence at the jail and that officers are “worried about getting slashed themselves.”
Sullivan also criticized Sposato for not ordering facility-wide searches for contraband weapons in the aftermath of the slashings — something Sposato said isn’t as effective as the targeted searches that he has ordered in the areas where the incidents happened.
The sheriff said officers recovered one small blade — separate from those used in the attacks — while searching the cells of the suspected gang-affiliated inmates that have been moved to new locations.
Sposato also said all officers are being fitted for stab-resistant vests to help protect them, an undertaking he said is in response to a previous union appeal for better safety measures.
“No officers, fortunately, have been slashed. But in response to all of the issues we had here, they asked for them,” Sposato said of the equipment. “We decided it was a good idea.”
Sullivan described the two recent slashings. On May 18, a 23-year-old inmate suffered a deep wound that stretched from under one eye, across his face and onto his neck, he said. Police identified the wounded man as an MS-13 gang member at the time of his arrest on attempted murder charges after he allegedly attacked two teenagers with a machete.
But the inmate’s attorney, Dana Grossblatt of Jericho, said her client denies gang ties. She said he needed hundreds of stitches after what she called a “horrific” jail attack that caused him “grievous injuries.”
“I hope that they find the perpetrator who committed this heinous crime,” the attorney added.
Sullivan said investigators are looking into whether a member of a rival gang targeted the 23-year-old because of his alleged MS-13 affiliation.
In the May 22 slashing, Sullivan said, a 22-year-old inmate was left with slashes on his forehead, with the wounds extending over one eye and to his nose. He said investigators believe the Bloods gang targeted the victim because he’s an alleged Crips member.
The sheriff said about 20 percent of the jail’s population — which averages 1,130 — are believed to be in gangs, with first the Bloods, then MS-13 and then the Crips ranking as the criminal syndicates with the most members.