On behalf of over 100 detainees, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Thursday in federal court against Suffolk County, claiming inhumane conditions at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverhead violate the constitutional rights of those detained there.
Citing a list of complaints - including overcrowding, raw sewage in sleeping areas and beyond, tainted drinking water, prolonged exposure to mold and vermin, and more - the lawsuit seeks to remedy conditions it cites as inhumane and award financial damages those exposed to the reported conditions.
“Nobody should be forced to live in the sickening conditions that exist in the Suffolk County jails,” said Amol Sinha, director of the NYCLU’s Suffolk County Chapter. “Raw sewage bubbles from floor drains, rodents and roaches infest the kitchens, black mold covers the showers – it shocks the conscience. That county officials have allowed such horrendous conditions to persist for years is simply shameful.”
The 39-page lawsuit alleges that the detainees' eighth and 14th amendment rights were violated, saying a lack of due process was given to alleged criminals who are held at the facilities, and to those who were convicted, cruel and inhumane treatment.
County officials, having just heard of the complaint on Thursday, offered little comment.
Chief of Staff Michael Sharkey, of the Suffolk County Sheriff's office - which runs the prisons - said Thursday afternoon he had yet to read the complaint, and referred comment to the county attorney's office.
Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said that the lawsuit was currently under review and offered no comment.
In addition to the Riverhead jail, conditions at Yaphank Correctional Facility are also cited as unconstitutional.
Leading the plaintiffs is a man who, just over a year ago, was alleged by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota to be that distributed over half a kilo of cocaine a week throughout Suffolk County.
Mack Butler, 37, stands charged on 10 counts, nine of which are felonies and the top charge of which is conspiracy in the first degree, a class B felony. He is still going through pretrial hearings, according to court documents.
New York City law firm Shearman and Sterling LLP is offering its services to conduct the class action lawsuit pro bono. The NYCLU also released a video on YouTube in which a former inmate recounts his experience at Riverhead Correctional Facility, which is often used as a holding facility for those accused of serious crimes.
"Riverhead did something to me," said Jason Porter, 33, who was in jail on misdemeanor charges. "For the two months I was there, we went through horrible prison conditions ... The shower itself is disgusting. There was different types of molds and funguses growing on the shower, out and around the shower."
The lawsuit also lists Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco and Deputy Sheriffs Joseph Caracappa and John Meyerricks as defendants.