The mother of a West Babylon man who died from overdosing on fentanyl in Nassau's jail has filed a $20 million lawsuit alleging the 28-year-old's "agonizing and wrongful" death happened because county officials ignored a drug contraband problem at the facility and didn't treat his addiction.
The county was aware "a virtual open door to contraband" existed at the East Meadow correctional facility but didn’t do enough to fight the illegal drug trade before Kevin Rollins’ death in December 2018, the lawsuit alleges.
It names as defendants Nassau County and its jail, the Sheriff’s Department and former Sheriff Vera Fludd, unidentified correction officers and jail health officials, and Nassau Health Care Corp. — which runs the hospital where Rollins died and has the contract for inmate medical care.
"There's an open pipeline of illegal drugs into the jail and there has been for years. Mr. Rollins' needless death was the result of the defendants doing too little to stem the tide," attorney James Pascarella, whose firm filed the lawsuit in New York's Eastern District, said Thursday.
County and hospital officials declined to comment.
The litigation points to a Newsday story last year that revealed Nassau jail officials seized drugs or drug paraphernalia 237 times in a period of about four years ending in summer 2019, including marijuana, prescription pills, heroin and other banned substances.
The federal claim also cites the state Commission of Correction’s finding last year that jail officials failed to do enough to purge drugs from inmate housing following a pattern of drug-related contraband activity before Rollins’ overdose.
The commission, which investigates all inmate deaths, found the jail had an inadequate policy for contraband searches. After Rollins’ death, the agency recommended county officials "review and revise facility policies" to include indicators that would prompt a housing unit drug search.
Nassau Sheriff James Dzurenda defended the jail’s search policies during the commission's probe of Rollins’ death and said county officials strongly disagreed with the state’s findings.
But he also told the state contraband searches had been stepped up "independent" of the Rollins case and policies would be revised to include language about what prompts a housing search.
The lawsuit from Susan Rollins, the late inmate’s mother, says the violation of her son’s constitutional rights began before he overdosed because officials also failed to ensure he got proper medical treatment as an addict with a history of heart problems.
The lawsuit says Kevin Rollins was taken out of a jail program focused on treating addiction and moved to a general housing area, exposing him "to greater and all too easy access to contraband drugs."
The lawsuit also says Nassau’s jail has a "long and disturbing history" of neglecting the health and safety of inmates, including in the past by renewing the contract of a for-profit inmate medical provider after warnings about its deficient care.
In 2017, the county cut ties with Armor Correctional Health Services and re-contracted with Nassau Health Care Corp. for inmate care after the state commission found Armor provided inadequate treatment in connection with multiple inmate deaths.
The Rollins litigation adds that while county officials have been advised and reprimanded over decades by courts and state and federal entities, "saving dollars held more sway than saving lives, if the lives are the lives of inmates."
It also cites a claim Nassau correction union president Brian Sullivan made to Newsday last year that facility-wide jail searches aren’t done often enough amid "a very serious drug contraband problem."
Dzurenda, whom new County Executive Bruce Blakeman has kept as sheriff, told Newsday then that jail officials were "constantly on alert to detect, identify and prevent the introduction of contraband into the facility at all times."
In late 2020, Nassau lawmakers approved a $278,000 contract for two body scanners that are now in use at the jail that can show an image of any hidden contraband on someone by transmitting a low level of X-rays through that person’s body.
Rollins was a West Babylon High School graduate who worked as a butcher and was training to be a plumber. He had done stints in rehab while battling heroin addiction and took part in Nassau’s drug court program after pleading guilty to a felony following a 2016 arrest.
But a 2018 arrest for drug-impaired driving violated terms of a deal that would have reduced his felony conviction and Rollins went back to Nassau's jail and was expecting a prison sentence, according to records and his former attorney.
He died at Nassau University Medical Center on Dec. 28, 2018, the day after being found on his cell floor — not appearing to be breathing or have a pulse — after another inmate went to an officer for help, according to the state commission.
The lawsuit from Rollins’ mother says correction officers didn’t give Narcan to her son and he only got the medicine, which can reverse overdoses, after a jail physician arrived in the cell area.