John Gleeson of Oceanside, an inmate at the Nassau County...

John Gleeson of Oceanside, an inmate at the Nassau County jail, died while in custody on July 14, 2014, correction officials said. Credit: News 12 Long Island

The family of an inmate who died in Nassau's jail has filed a federal lawsuit against the facility's medical provider and the county, calling the Oceanside man's death "needless, shameful and preventable."

The claim, filed Monday in Central Islip, says John Gleeson "was denied competent, necessary, medically obvious and timely care by the defendants," who include Sheriff Michael Sposato and his department, the jail and unnamed correction officers and jail medical workers.

The suit, which alleges constitutional violations and wrongful death, follows the state Commission of Correction's recent finding that Gleeson's July 14, 2014, death may have been prevented if not for "incompetent and deficient" treatment from health care contractor Armor Correctional Health Services.

"All too often, inmates' detentions become death sentences," the suit says, describing Gleeson's last hours as a "nightmarish horror" as he was "gasping for breath."

Gleeson, 40, had suffered from angioedema, a medical condition where swelling episodes can lead to breathing emergencies. The electrician and divorced father of two had pleaded not guilty to a burglary charge on the day he died.

"He has children who are going to be without a father for the rest of their lives. There are individuals and entities that need to be held responsible," Gleeson family attorney James Pascarella said Monday.

A county spokesman and an Armor spokeswoman would not comment on pending litigation.

Gleeson's is one of at least four inmate deaths at Nassau's jail in which the state commission found Armor provided inadequate care since taking over in mid-2011 when the county privatized inmate medical services to try to save money.

In its findings on Gleeson's death, the commission ordered the county legislature to conduct an inquiry into Armor's care. It also questioned Armor's treatment of inmates in New York, finding the company had a pattern of inadequate and neglectful care.

Fellow inmates have said that despite Gleeson's throat swelling dramatically, he told them the night he died that medical personnel had given him Benadryl and sent him back to his cell, Newsday has reported. One fellow inmate also said Gleeson had complained of serious breathing trouble, and another said Gleeson made repeated trips to the jail infirmary that day.

"The pleas of Gleeson's fellow inmates, who plainly could apprehend that he was experiencing a very serious and severe medical incident . . . were ignored" by jail and Armor staff, the suit alleges.

It also says county officials failed to properly train and supervise correction officers and medical staff, "amounting to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights" of inmates, including Gleeson. It adds the defendants have known about negligent health care at the jail for years, but failed to fix it.

Municipal officials also ignored specific findings of the state Commission of Correction related to jail deficiencies, the suit claims. While the county knew of Armor's "propensity for performing deficient health and medical services" the legislature renewed the company's contract anyway, the lawsuit says.

The claim seeks monetary damages and other relief, including an order prohibiting the county from hiring an inmate medical provider without an open bidding process.

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