Javel Welch, a Nassau County correction officer, was arrested after a narcotics dog detected drug residue on his belongings as he arrived for work at the jail in East Meadow, prosecutors said. NewsdayTV's Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Newsday Staff

A Nassau County correction officer was arrested on charges of smuggling contraband into the jail in East Meadow after a narcotics dog detected drug residue and investigators found a cellphone on him as he arrived for work Wednesday, prosecutors said.

Javel Welch, 38, of West Hempstead, pleaded not guilty to charges of promoting contraband and failing to safely store a firearm at his arraignment before Nassau County District Court Judge Jaclene Agazarian Thursday.

He was arraigned on one count of first-degree promoting prison contraband, a felony, and one count of second-degree promoting prison contraband and one count of first-degree failure to safely store rifles, shotguns and firearms, both misdemeanors.

Nassau County prosecutors said K2 drug residue was detected on a Bible Welch was carrying in a backpack, which also contained a cellphone, which is prohibited at the jail. K2 is a synthetic cannabinoid the district attorney said is often referred to as "spice."

Defense attorney Cheryl Bartow said her client denies the allegations.

“There was some sort of a dog hit on him and [internal affairs was] brought in to speak to him.” Bartow said. “He seemed cooperative with internal affairs and gave consent to search. He adamantly denies [ the charges].”

Bartow said Welch got the Bible from his mother.

Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said cellphones in the hands of inmates can hinder investigations and be used to harass victims and orchestrate gang activity.

“The presence of cellphones and drugs can spark fights and medical emergencies in the correctional facility center,” she said.

The district attorney said there has also been an increase in the jail of inmates rolling up Bible pages containing drug residue and smoking them. The type of Bible Welch had in his possession was the type sold in the commissary, she said.

Welch's arrest comes after the recent deaths of two inmates of suspected drug overdoses.

Donnelly declined to say if the investigation into Welch was related to ongoing probes into the overdose deaths at the jail. 

“I don’t want to comment on investigative tactics, but we had an overdose in the jail a few short weeks ago and we are following every lead from that case,” she said. 

Ray Digiacomo, 45, of Bethpage, was discovered unconscious inside his cell at 12:15 a.m. March 1 and pronounced dead one hour later at a hospital, Nassau County police said. While police at the time did not share a cause of death, a Donnelly spokesperson said Digiacomo was the death she was referring to.

In November, Nikita Pertsev, 29, of Brooklyn also died of a fatal overdose at the jail, county officials said at the time.

Donnelly said Welch began his career as a correction officer in April 2022 and is still a probationary employee. Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said his employment "has been immediately terminated."

"If the allegations are true, this individual put the safety of his fellow correction officers in jeopardy as well as the prison population and surrounding community," Blakeman said in a statement.

When internal affairs investigators searched Welch's vehicle, they found a fully loaded service weapon left unsecured, leading to the gun charge, officials said.

The weapon was a semiautomatic Glock 19 pistol found in the center console of his 2023 white Jeep Cherokee, charging documents show.

Family members declined to comment as they left the courtroom, Welch’s face covered by a jacket as he was guided away.

 "He's a good young man. No further comment," said Pastor Russell James Davenport, who accompanied Welch's family to court.

Welch is due back in court April 6. If convicted of the top charge, Welch faces a potential maximum of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison, prosecutors said.

A 2021 Newsday special report revealed Nassau officials seized contraband at the county jail 237 times during a 45-month period between 2016 and summer 2019. 

With Cecilia Dowd

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