Suffolk County correction officers punched, kicked and stomped on an inmate at the Riverhead jail who later died from his injuries, according to a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed last month by the sister of the dead man.
The lawsuit filed in Central Islip federal court on July 26 by Valerie Wright of Queens says Wright’s brother, Andre Seabrook, was assaulted in June 2015 by several unidentified sheriff’s officers following a search of his cell at the Riverhead correctional facility. Seabrook was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the attack and died from about six weeks later, the complaint says. Wright’s attorneys, Frank A. Andrea and Matthew Duell of Garden City, said it is unclear if Seabrook’s paralysis would have been permanent if he had survived and received proper treatment.
The lawsuit, which seeks $2 million, claims the alleged assault resulted from a sheriff’s office culture and policies that tolerate the use of excessive and deadly force against minority inmates. Seabrook was African-American.
Seabrook’s death was reported, as required, to the New York State Commission of Corrections, which found that it did not warrant fuller investigation. The commission, which oversees all state jails and prisons, administratively closed the case Dec. 15, 2015, a spokeswoman said.
Suffolk police say they would not have investigated Seabrook’s death because the sheriff’s office reviews inmate deaths. A spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota did not return requests for comment.
According to the lawsuit, Seabrook was whistling and singing as he retrieved personal items that had been thrown into a hallway during a search of his cell. Correction officers demanded to know why he was singing, and then assaulted him in his cell and the hallway, the suit says.
Seabrook was dragged into a nearby day room where he was again beaten, the court papers say. The inmate was thrown onto a gurney by the officers, who left him there for a “considerable amount of time” before he received medical attention, court papers say. He was eventually taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and later moved to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he died on Aug. 2, 2015.
Seabrook “lost all feeling, sensation and movement in his lower extremities and the ability to urinate on his own,” the complaint said.
Seabrook was being held at the Riverhead jail after he had been arrested for allegedly stealing a tent from a Target store, Andrea and Duell said. The charges in that case were dismissed after his death, Andrea said.
Records show that Seabrook had been arrested numerous times since 1992 and had pleaded guilty to petty larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and other nonviolent charges.
The lawsuit names Suffolk County, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office and individual, unidentified officers as defendants. Court papers say Seabrook, a longtime resident of Amityville, was 46 when he died.
A spokesman for the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office said he could not comment on pending litigation. Louis Viscusi, president of the Suffolk County Correction Officers Association, did not return calls for comment. A spokesman for the county also did not respond to Newsday’s inquiries.
Andrea said the death certificate issued by the Suffolk County Medical Examiner said the cause of Seabrook’s death was “pending further study.” When Seabrook’s fiancee Elsie Lorenson went to the Suffolk County medical examiner’s office in Hauppauge the day after his death to identify the body, according to Andrea, she was told that it had already been cremated.
“No explanation was given,” Andrea said.