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Labor leader: Violence at Nassau jail underscores training, equipment needs

A guard tower of the Nassau County jail

A guard tower of the Nassau County jail in East Meadow on March 2, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Ed Betz

Correction officers at the Nassau County jail are demanding training, safety equipment and more guards in specialized units after two inmates who are reputed gang members allegedly stabbed a rival five times in a housing unit.

The alleged attack, which occurred Monday, according to Brian Sullivan, president of the Nassau County Sheriff Correction Officers Benevolent Association, shows the East Meadow facility is a dangerous place and needs more safeguards to protect staff, correction officers and inmates, he said.

“It underscores a constant problem I have been talking about for years,” Sullivan said Thursday. His union represents just over 800 correction officers.

“There’s a gang problem in this jail," he said. "There’s a severe weapons problem here.”

County officials declined to comment but Sullivan said two members of the MS-13 street gang attacked a member of Salvadorans With Pride shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, leaving the victim with a punctured lung.

He was rushed to nearby Nassau University Medical Center for treatment.

The alleged attack was one of 66 inmate-on-inmate assaults so far in 2019 along with 75 assaults by inmates on officers, Sullivan said.

County Executive Laura Curran also would not discuss the alleged jail stabbing but said Nassau is aggressively recruiting more guards and just hired nearly 90 new officers who have graduated from Sheriff's Training Academy since June 2018. One of those graduating classes included 40 officers — the largest in a decade, Curran said.

However, Sullivan said, those new hires are barely keeping up with attrition in a jail that on Thursday held more than 1,100 detainees and others already convicted of crimes. As many as 300 of those incarcerated are either gang members or associates, Sullivan said.

Correction officers are currently working under an expired contract and their union is in discussions with the county on a new one, but Sullivan said his call for safety and equipment upgrades is not part of negotiations.

County figures show 44 correction officers either retired or separated from the jail in 2018,  and 18 so far in 2019.

There were 820 correction officers on staff as of Aug. 31, up from 792 on Jan. 31, 2018, according to the county figures.

Sullivan said that he has repeatedly asked Sheriff Vera Fludd to boost the ranks of the gang intelligence and criminal investigation units to curb violence and solve crimes within the jail, including Monday's alleged attack. There are three officers assigned to the gang unit inside the jail, county officials said, and another two assigned to the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force. The criminal investigation unit consists of four members, according to Nassau officials.

The labor union president also said he has called for additional training and the installation of more sophisticated scanners such as the sensitive machines used at airports by the federal Transportation Security Administration, instead of the magnetometers currently in use.

“I just don’t see any action taken by the sheriff’s office or the county,” he said.

The weapon allegedly used Monday was not recovered, he said, adding that the jail has eliminated routine searches for contraband as well as weapons and needs better equipment.

“We want the TSA scanner in here,” Sullivan said. “We want the tools to be available to search for these weapons.”

With Candice Ferrette

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