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Dead inmate’s estate sues Nassau county, jail, medical providers

Nassau jail inmate Emanuel McElveen, 20, died in

Nassau jail inmate Emanuel McElveen, 20, died in July 2016 of respiratory failure. A lawsuit contends his death was caused by the negligence of county officials, and the jail's former and current medical providers. Credit: New York State Corrections Dept.

The estate of a 20-year-old Roosevelt man who died last year in the custody of Nassau jail is suing the county and the facility’s former and current medical providers after a state probe found a jail doctor failed to detect his cancer.

The federal lawsuit, filed last week, contends Emanuel McElveen’s July 2016 death resulted from the negligence of the county, along with its Sheriff’s Department and jail, former jail vendor Armor Correctional Health Services and Nassau University Medical Center.

The hospital is the East Meadow jail’s current inmate health care provider and the place where McElveen died.

The civil suit, which asks for a jury trial and an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive monetary damages, includes claims of wrongful death, civil rights violations and medical malpractice against some or all of the defendants.

“This was a needless death that occurred and now Emir will never know his father and this could have been prevented,” McElveen estate attorney Nicholas Warywoda said in an interview, speaking of McElveen’s toddler son.

The Port Washington attorney said an oncologist reviewed the medical case for the plaintiff and found that at the time McElveen’s cancer should have been diagnosed, “it was treatable and curable.”

“He ended up dying because they kept trying to attribute the symptoms to malnutrition instead of cancer, which should have been apparent to a competent physician,” Warywoda added of Armor.

The lawsuit follows a recent finding from the state Commission of Correction that Armor’s failure to provide adequate health care directly resulted in McElveen’s death, Newsday reported last month.

The commission’s chairman also concluded after McElveen’s death that the Sheriff’s Department shares responsibility with Armor for failing to initiate meaningful reforms after previous jail custody fatalities.

The oversight agency said that while McElveen died of respiratory failure on July 5, 2016, the jail custody fatality was caused by a pre-existing medical condition after Armor’s failures “were contributory to his worsening health.”

Armor previously has contested the state’s findings in McElveen’s death, disagreeing that its treatment of McElveen contributed toward his declining health and saying he got appropriate treatment in jail, Newsday has reported.

Armor spokeswoman Yeleny Suarez released a statement Friday saying the company “does not comment on pending litigation.” Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey and NUMC spokeswoman Shelley Lotenberg also declined to comment Friday on the lawsuit.

In McElveen’s case, the state also found Armor didn’t adequately identify and treat his illnesses, recognize and treat serious changes in his condition, follow up properly on medication issues or adequately answer his sick call requests. Among his illnesses was large cell lymphoma, a cancer that involved multiple organs, the state report said.

A week before he died, McElveen said in a jail grievance that Armor’s staff hadn’t seen him after several requests and he had pain all over, hearing loss, swollen feet, facial numbness and an allergic reaction, Newsday has reported. He had been serving a 1-year jail sentence at the time of his death after a misdemeanor conviction for unauthorized vehicle use.

The lawsuit marks the fifth federal case pending against the county and Armor following a series of jail inmate deaths under Armor’s more than six-year tenure at Nassau’s jail. The state commission has found Armor provided inadequate care in at least eight of the 14 inmate deaths.

Nassau University Medical Center resumed control of the jail’s medical services last month under a two-year contract.

The new civil suit lists Nassau County’s public administrator as the plaintiff acting for McElveen’s estate because the man’s estate still is being settled in Surrogate’s Court, Warywoda said.

The lawsuit follows a nearly $8 million jury verdict in April against Armor and the county while Warywoda represented the family of military veteran Bartholomew Ryan after the man’s 2012 jail suicide.

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