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Inmates to sue Nassau in sex abuse case

Mark Barber, a Nassau County Correction Officer, leaves

Mark Barber, a Nassau County Correction Officer, leaves the Nassau DA's office after he was arrest for having sex with inmates. (December 30, 2009) Photo Credit: Photo by Photo by Howard Schnapp

Female inmates who prosecutors say were sexually abused by a Nassau jail guard have taken the first step to suing the county, records show.

Several of the women, represented by attorney Jon Norinsberg, filed notices of claim last year alleging they were violated by the guard, Mark Barber, who has pleaded not guilty to a 58-count criminal complaint that he extorted sex from the inmates by plying them with favors and threatening them if they didn't acquiesce.

A notice of claim is the first step in filing a lawsuit against the government. Norinsberg, of Manhattan, said the women will also soon sue in federal court on allegations that the guard violated their rights. Newsday is withholding their names because they are alleged victims of a sex crime.

Barber, who was born in 1962 and had worked for the county Sheriff's Department since 1987, was arrested on Dec. 30 on charges that include rape, official misconduct, forcible touching and promoting prison contraband. The father of two is free on $25,000 bond and due in court again March 9.

Prosecutors say that between August 2007 and March 2009 Barber, of Levittown, targeted prostitutes, drug abusers and the mentally ill.

Using love notes penned by Barber and other evidence, investigators have corroborated the women's allegations beyond just their word, the Nassau district attorney said.

Barber's attorney, Frederick J. Annibale Jr. of Garden City, said his client denies all of the charges made by the women.

"If they are the same people in the criminal complaint, it certainly shows what their motivations may be," he said.

Barber, once head of the correctional officers' labor union, was the jailhouse grievance officer when one of the inmates now suing asked for help to check on outstanding warrants.

"He essentially forced himself on her," Norinsberg said.

The woman, now 21, was in jail for a probation violation stemming from a petty larceny case and was forced to have sex with Barber in December 2008, Norinsberg said.

"None of this should have happened," Norinsberg said. "This guy's well into his 40s. She's 20 years old."

Her claim notice seeks $20 million in damages.

An attorney for a sixth woman alleging abuse said he is also in the process of formulating a lawsuit.

In that sixth abuse case, Barber claimed the woman was going to be on cleanup duty but instead sexually abused her near the jailhouse chapel, said attorney Steven Hoffner of Manhattan.

"He took advantage of her. She was in a diminished mental state to begin with. She obviously is not in a great situation being incarcerated," Hoffner said of his client, who was doing a 30-day jail stint for a shoplifting conviction.

The county executive's office didn't return messages seeking comment.

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