Daniel McDonnell, left, and Dainell Simmons.

Daniel McDonnell, left, and Dainell Simmons. Credit: McDonnell family, Simmons family

Daniel McDonnell was 40 when he died in the Suffolk County Police Department’s First Precinct in West Babylon in 2011. A married carpenter with a son, he owned a home in Lindenhurst, and suffered from bipolar disorder. His behavior was usually stabilized by medication, but when he was arrested after allegedly violating an order of protection taken out by a neighbor, officers refused to let McDonnell take the medication he’d brought with him. The officers would not confirm with the pharmacy that the medications were proper and necessary, as SCPD policy requires.

McDonnell became irate, demanding his medications for hours before stripping naked and clogging his toilet, until officers entered his cell to subdue him.

Dainell Simmons was 29 when he died in a group home in Middle Island in 2013. Suffering from autism and severe developmental disabilities, he was largely nonverbal.

On July 24, 2013, Simmons became irate when housemates had a fried-dough treat and he did not. Counselors failed to calm his screams and agitation, and were instructed to send him to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. The staff acted to get Simmons transported, and a 911 dispatcher put out the call, incorrectly, as a resident “attacking” staff.

What happened next in the two cases was distressingly similar. According to a recent Newsday investigation, officers not properly trained to deal with psychologically distressed inmates, nor with safely restraining and moving such people, arrived. Both men ended up prone on their stomachs for lengthy periods, with the weight of officers on them. Both men stopped breathing and died.

In both cases, the behavior of officers was shockingly incompetent. Their testimony directly disagreed with that of witnesses, and in many cases was apparently coached. The investigations that followed both deaths were cursory, seemingly intended to clear officers of wrongdoing rather than establishing the truth.

In neither case was any officer charged with a crime, nor did any face departmental discipline, though experts quoted in the stories cited numerous missteps in the cases, some likely rising to the level of criminality.

And both deaths resulted in big taxpayer-funded payouts: $2.25 million to McDonnell’s family and $1.85 million to Simmons’.

In 2016 Suffolk updated its protocols for removing prisoners from cells. In 2019 the department adopted a 40-hour curriculum of Crisis Intervention Training, though only 370 of the department’s 2,400 officers have taken it.

And the SCPD used the fact that no officers ever faced criminal or departmental charges to keep from Newsday records that should be public.

A deadly lack of training. Shoddy investigations designed to obscure the truth and protect officers rather than discovering the truth and protecting residents. Big taxpayer-funded payouts. And unrelenting secrecy that only information from family, witnesses and civil suits helped pierce now, far too long after these events happened.

These have been the shortcomings of the SCPD for decades. And it’s not clear that much has changed.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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