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Family of inmate who died in Nassau jail custody sues

The lawsuit says the defendants violated the civil rights of Michael Cullum.

Michael Cullum with his sisters Dolores, center, and

Michael Cullum with his sisters Dolores, center, and Dorothy Cullum in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Cullum family

The family of a 62-year-old man who died last year in Nassau County jail custody has filed a $60 million federal lawsuit against the county and the facility’s former medical provider, claiming the inmate died because he was denied proper care.

Filed Monday, the suit says the defendants violated the civil rights of Michael Cullum and alleges negligence and medical malpractice that resulted in a wrongful death.

The civil claim, which says the parties failed to take action to treat Cullum’s ailments and safeguard his life, marks the sixth pending federal lawsuit against the county and Armor Correctional Health Services involving inmate deaths.

“This is an important lawsuit to try and change a culture at our jail which is dangerous, and unfortunately, consistent. When someone checks into the jail in Nassau, it should not amount to a death sentence,” said Hempstead attorney Frederick Brewington, who represents two sons of the late Glen Cove man.

The lawsuit follows a report earlier this year from New York State’s Commission of Correction that found Cullum’s death on Sept. 5, 2016 directly resulted from Armor’s failure to provide adequate treatment — a finding Armor previously contested.

The commission said in its report Cullum died after a blood clot formed in his leg veins went to his lungs, and it listed pancreatitis and opioid dependency as contributing factors to his death. He had been jailed on drug charges after his Aug. 26 arrest.

The oversight agency now has found Armor, which ended its more than six-year role at the jail in August, failed to provide adequate care for at least eight of the 14 inmates who died in Nassau jail custody during its tenure.

The Cullum lawsuit also names the Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail, the Nassau Police Department and Nassau University Medical Center, where Cullum died, as defendants.

An Armor spokeswoman said Wednesday the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation, and a NUMC spokeswoman said the same of the hospital. Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey said in a statement the county “takes the death of inmates seriously,” but “as there is presently other inmate litigation it is best that the ongoing legal process address these issues.”

He added: “We believe that the county will be found to have acted in the best interest of inmates of the Correctional Center to ensure their health and safety.”

Many of the claims in the lawsuit mirror the commission’s findings, which include that there was an “unacceptable delay” of 4 hours and 40 minutes before a doctor saw Cullum despite his unstable vital signs, and that Armor staff failed to send him to the hospital in a timely manner when he needed emergency care.

Armor failed to have an adequate procedure to make sure inmates who needed assisted breathing devices got them, and Cullum received breathing treatments without a doctor’s order, according to the state report and lawsuit.

The commission also found, and the lawsuit claims, that an Armor doctor showed gross incompetence by failing to send Cullum to the hospital after significant condition changes. The oversight agency asked other state offices to probe the doctor’s actions, and to investigate multiple nurses for professional misconduct.

The lawsuit also claims the defendants permitted and encouraged a pattern of substandard inmate medical care, and employees and contractors “were insulated with official claims that the actions were excusable, justified and proper.”

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