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Man who killed self at jail had no mental-problem history

Herve Jeannot, accused of murdering Robert Calabrese Jr.,

Herve Jeannot, accused of murdering Robert Calabrese Jr., leaves Nassau County Courthouse after opening statements in his fourth murder trial, Monday. (Sept. 27, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Herve Jeannot - the Deer Park man who tied his bedsheets into a noose in a Nassau jail cell and slipped it around his neck just hours after jurors found him guilty of first-degree murder Tuesday - was not suspected of having mental problems that would have placed him on a suicide watch, officials said.

Jail officials said that they normally would intensify supervision for anyone with previous signs of mental distress - especially when an inmate gets bad news, like a conviction or sentencing, a death in the family, or a divorce.

But other inmates with no prior mental health history, such as Jeannot, aren't flagged for closer scrutiny in those circumstances.

"It would be like trying to kill a fly with an elephant gun," said James Capoziello, vice president of correctional health services at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.

Inmates may be referred to mental health professionals by correction officers, police, family or judges.

Suicide watch consists of one officer watching one inmate continuously. Normally, officers come by cells every 30 minutes.

The three suicides at the jail this year comprise more than 10 percent of the suicides that have taken place in all of the jails and prisons in New York State, said John Caher, a spokesman for the state Commission of Correction, which oversees all correctional facilities.

The state prison system and county jails hold a total of 87,500 people, according to state officials, while Nassau officials said the Nassau jail holds 1,648 people.

Bob Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a state-funded agency that monitors correctional facilities, said the Nassau jail has a higher-than-normal suicide rate.

"If there have been three suicides in a year, then there is a problem," he said. "It's not a matter of opinion. There have been this many suicides on their watch and they have to take steps to prevent these acts of self-harm from occurring."

The jail's suicide prevention protocol, Capoziello said, is a rigorous set of procedures set by state officials and the U.S. Justice Department. It was part of a consent decree forged after the federal government found gross civil rights violations at the jail in 1999, shortly after Thomas Pizzuto, serving a 90-day sentence for a traffic violation, was beaten to death by corrections officers.

Capoziello declined to speak about specifics of Jeannot's case - or the other two suicides that took place this year at the jail involving Gasparino Godino, 31, of Bethpage, who killed himself earlier this month; and Eamon McGinn, 32, of Brooklyn, who took his own life in January.

But jail sources said neither had displayed signs of distress that would place them on the radar of Capoziello's staff of 20 mental health professionals.

Sheriff Michael Sposato said the jail would conduct its own review of the Jeannot case. It is also being investigated by the Nassau County Police Department and state Commission of Correction.

William Petrillo, Jeannot's family's attorney, said they declined to comment.

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