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Dead inmate’s family sues Nassau jail over medical care

Catherine Marinaccio with her daughter, Gloria Gazzola, and

Catherine Marinaccio with her daughter, Gloria Gazzola, and other family members of Antonio Marinaccio Jr., who died in custody of Nassau County jail, say they believe he wasn't cared for properly. The family has filed a suit against the jail's health provider and the county. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The family of an inmate who died last year in the custody of the Nassau jail has sued the facility’s health care provider and the county in federal court, alleging that the Levittown man’s death was a result of medical negligence and constitutional violations.

Filed Tuesday, the claim says the May death of Antonio Marinaccio Jr., 53, might have been prevented and that inhumane treatment deprived him of needed medical attention, his rights and his life.

It alleges the defendants, which include Nassau Sheriff Michael Sposato, were focused more on profitability and less on inmate health and safety, with a delay in care leading to the inmate’s “irreversible brain damage” and death.

The lawsuit also claims, following an exclusive Newsday report last month, that some of Marinaccio’s medical records “were altered, tampered with and changed” to try to cover up jail vendor Armor Correctional Health Services’ negligence after the inmate’s heart attack and collapse.

Westbury attorney Harry Demiris Jr., who filed the lawsuit, said in an interview that Marinaccio was “a victim of negligence and Armor essentially playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.”

The lawsuit is the fourth federal claim pending from families of Nassau inmates who have died in jail custody since Armor first won a county contract in 2011.

The state attorney general’s office is currently investigating Armor’s practices.

The lawsuit also comes as the New York State Commission of Correction is investigating Marinaccio’s death after finding Armor provided inadequate care in connection with the deaths of four other Nassau inmates — including two deaths it said “may have been prevented.”

The jail oversight agency also found last fall that Armor has a pattern of “inadequate and neglectful medical care.”

The Marinaccio lawsuit also alleges the defendants failed to address health care shortcomings they knew about before the inmate’s death.

However, Armor has repeatedly defended its record after recent criticism that has included calls for the suspension of its Nassau contract. “Armor strongly disagrees with all allegations made,” a company spokeswoman said Wednesday of the lawsuit. She said an internal probe found no evidence that any document was missing from Marinaccio’s medical chart and Armor “is confident the patient received the appropriate care.”

A Nassau spokesman said Wednesday that the county doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit also alleges the inmate suffered injuries at the hands of correction officers before his collapse.

However, Brian Sullivan, president of Nassau’s union for correction officers, said his members actually tried to save Marinaccio’s life. Sullivan added, though, that the lawsuit’s allegations against Armor are “another example . . . that this company does not belong here.” He said, “The county needs to take some kind of action to get rid of them.”

The inmate’s family said his collapse came two days after he went to jail on April 24 to serve a 1-year sentence for felony drunken driving and resisting arrest.

Marinaccio’s family previously said they believed he was beaten at the jail as payback for allegedly assaulting police during a 2013 domestic encounter. They also claimed police hit him while he was handcuffed, but a police union official said Marinaccio was the aggressor.

The inmate’s family said he had cuts and contusions all over his body in the hospital, where he died May 2 after life support was shut off.

They said a correction official told them he was found in his cell at 3 a.m. on April 26 in cardiac arrest, but they later learned he didn’t go to the first of two hospitals until 4:18 a.m.

The lawsuit claims while a jail nurse noted “potentially serious health issues” when Marinaccio got to jail, a doctor refused to order a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram because Armor’s practice is to cut costs.

It alleges Marinaccio complained of chest pain and breathing trouble at 2:47 a.m. before his medical emergency, but at 2:59 a.m., a nurse recorded his vitals as “good” and didn’t call a doctor.

But at 3:35 a.m., correction officers saw Marinaccio had suffered a cardiac event, according to the claim.

The lawsuit also names correction officials and Armor employees whose names aren’t known to the plaintiff, along with the jail and the sheriff’s department, as defendants.

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