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Family of dead Nassau inmate claims he was beaten and given poor medical care

Catherine Marinaccio sits with her daughter Gloria Gazzola

Catherine Marinaccio sits with her daughter Gloria Gazzola on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015 in Wesbury as they speak about their son/brother Antonio Marinaccio, Jr. who they say wasn't cared for properly at Nassau County Correctional Facility. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The family of a Nassau County jail inmate who died in May claims law enforcement officials beat him and that he became brain-dead after not getting proper medical care and suffering a heart attack while in custody.

The state Commission of Correction is investigating the May 2 death of Antonio Marinaccio Jr., 53, of Levittown, an agency spokeswoman confirmed. His death marks at least the second time in a year that allegations were raised about medical negligence by the family of a Nassau inmate who died in jail custody.

Marinaccio's family plans to sue, and their attorney filed a notice of claim in July against the county, the jail, correction and police officials, and Nassau University Medical Center.

The claim says Marinaccio was the victim of wrongful death, excessive force, abuse, gross misconduct and medical negligence, including jail officials' failure "to employ appropriate care and resuscitation efforts" while the inmate was "totally reliant upon his warders."

A county spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on the family's claims. But John Jaronczyk, union president for Nassau's correction officers, said any allegation that Marinaccio's death was caused by correction officers was "completely false."

"Our officers were the first ones to respond and treat Mr. Marinaccio with first aid care until the medical personnel arrived and subsequently transferred him from the jail to the hospital. There had been no indication that our officers did anything else, other than provide the care, custody and control which they are trained to do," he said in a statement.

The claim comes after other recent criticism of the jail and its private health contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, including allegations relating to the death of inmate John Gleeson in July 2014. His family says the 40-year-old Oceanside man didn't get proper medical care for angioedema, a condition in which swelling can cause breathing emergencies.

The Commission of Correction, which is probing Gleeson's death, also criticized Armor's care in the 2011 heart attack of an inmate and the 2012 suicide of another.

An Armor spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company applies nationally recognized guidelines and "has a proven record of delivering quality health care to more than 40,000 patient-inmates in eight states." She said Armor couldn't comment on patients because of a privacy law.

In Marinaccio's case, his family learned his collapse came two days after he went to jail on April 24. He surrendered for a 1-year sentence after pleading guilty to charges including felony DWI from a 2014 arrest. The sentence also covered a guilty plea to resisting arrest from a 2013 domestic case in which Nassau police arrested him, his sister, Gloria Gazzola, 53, and their mother, Catherine Marinaccio, 78, at the family's home. Police had charged Antonio Marinaccio with assaulting two officers, alleging he punched one officer and pushed him and another officer down.

On April 26, a Sheriff's Department lieutenant called Marinaccio's family and said he had been found in his cell at 3 a.m. in cardiac arrest, the inmate's family said. The official also said the inmate had been brought to Nassau University Medical Center and then transferred to North Shore University Hospital. The inmate remained there on life support for days, according to his family, who later found out from a hospital official that Marinaccio wasn't brought to the first hospital until 4:18 a.m.

"There was a significant delay in the amount of time from when he was found to when he was brought to the hospital. We'd like to know what happened," said Harry Demiris Jr., the Westbury lawyer representing Marinaccio's family.

Nassau police and an NUMC spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday. A jail official didn't answer an inquiry.

Photos Gazzola took at her brother's bedside show a lump over one eye and a swollen nose. "He had cuts, contusions all over his body," she said.

Gazzola said he'd gotten threats while previously jailed, with correction officers telling him he had "hurt an officer."

She said: "They said to him 'When you come back, you are ours. We'll get you then.' "

Marinaccio's family believes he was beaten as payback for the 2013 encounter at their home with police, and also claim police beat him that day while he was handcuffed. However, police union leader James Carver said Tuesday that Marinaccio was the one assaulting officers that day.

Demiris said Marinaccio brought medical records with him to jail showing he had heart abnormalities, herniated discs and needed substance abuse detox. He also said correction officials gave the family three versions of what happened, saying the inmate was found facedown on his cot, or found on his cell's floor, or had a heart attack while using the toilet and falling down.

The lawyer said he is investigating to see what triggered the heart attack, and the treatment Marinaccio received before and after.

The inmate's family said he died after they gave permission to turn off life support after tests showed he was brain-dead.

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