The family of an inmate who died Monday in Nassau County’s jail is demanding a thorough investigation into their relative’s death, saying they are concerned because of the state’s criticism of the facility’s medical provider.
Relatives of the inmate Samuel Lawrence, 63, said Wednesday that the medical examiner’s office told the family Tuesday that a hardening of Lawrence’s arteries led to a “massive heart attack” that killed him.
But family members said Lawrence, who took medication for high blood pressure and had a history of using cocaine, also was very physically active and appeared healthy.
“We don’t know if he didn’t get medication or attention, or if it was just his time,” said his niece, Catrina Williams, 35, of Amityville.
The late inmate’s sister, Shelly Lawrence Hendrix, 61, of Copiague, said she wanted to make sure that her brother hadn’t been denied adequate care before his heart attack if he had requested treatment.
Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Michael Golio said his department was cooperating with other agencies in a “comprehensive review of all aspects of the circumstances surrounding this death.”
Golio added that the medical examiner’s office “has determined the death was the result of natural causes related to various existing medical conditions.”
The state Commission of Correction, which has jail oversight and probes all inmate fatalities, is among agencies now looking into Lawrence’s death. Last year, the agency found the jail’s private medical contractor, Armor Correctional Health Services, had a pattern of neglectful inmate care.
The commission has also found Armor provided inadequate care in the cases of four inmates who have died in jail custody since the vendor won its first Nassau contract in mid-2011.
Court records show Lawrence was serving a 10-month sentence after a petty larceny conviction.
Nassau police said their personnel responded to the jail for a call about an inmate not breathing on Monday morning and found medical staff giving that inmate aid. But they said a police paramedic pronounced the inmate dead at 6:42 a.m. after a further assessment.
A spokeswoman for Armor, which has repeatedly defended its operations, said in response to a question about the Lawrence family’s concerns that “due to federal health care laws, Armor does not comment on our patients’ health care.”
The company spokeswoman said Armor was “in agreement” with Golio’s statement.
But Lawrence’s family said they’ll keep asking questions until they find out if he got proper care. They’re also seeking all his jail medical records. His niece-in-law Alicia Lawrence, 34, of Amityville, said officials have declined to turn them over so far.
“He wasn’t a sickly man,” she said. “Everybody’s very unsettled about this.”