By Aman Ali
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A civil liberties group filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing a New York county of poor oversight of a local jail where five inmates have committed suicide since 2010.
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed its suit in state Supreme Court against Nassau County, on Long Island, in light of the recent death of Iraq war veteran Bartholomew Ryan.
Ryan, 32, hung himself in February shortly after being jailed on a drunk driving charge, according to the lawsuit.
"We were so dismayed with the sorry state of affairs there, especially with the recent death of an Iraq War veteran, which is a tragedy beyond comprehension," said Corey Stoughton, a senior staff attorney with NYCLU, which regularly represents inmates at the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow, New York.
More than 200 complaints have come from inmates about jail conditions, Stoughton said. The complaints include inmates who said they were not getting their prescription medications and handicapped inmates who said their wheelchairs were taken away.
"The problem was so systemic that we started to see these complaints weren't just instances," Stoughton said. "They were repeating the same patterns."
Nassau County's charter calls for a Board of Visitors to evaluate prisoner grievances, but the seven positions on the board were never filled in more than 20 years.
Elizabeth Loconsolo, who is general counsel for the Nassau County Sheriff's Department, said although the Board of Visitors might be vacant, several other groups oversee the jail such as the Jail Advisory Committee, Commission on Human Rights and the Sheriff's Department internal affairs unit.
"The department already works with and responds to a number of oversights at this point," she said. "It may be that the Board of Visitors was never constituted as it would just create additional, duplicative work and constitute an unwarranted burden on limited county resources."
Loconsolo said the county would respond to the specifics of the lawsuit in court.
The suit does not seek monetary damages but asks Nassau County to comply with its charter regarding the board.
The lawsuit cited four other suicides as well. It said the New York State Commission of Correction investigated the deaths and found several of them could have been prevented.
Daryl Woody, 44, who committed suicide in jail in January 2011 had a history of mental illness and was taken off suicide watch just a month earlier, the lawsuit said.
"His death may have been prevented but for the grossly inadequate psychiatric care provided him in the jail," it said.
It cited Eamon McGinn, 32, who committed suicide in January 2010 after what it said was inadequate mental and medical health care, and Gasparino Godino, 31, who hung himself with a bedsheet in October 2010 although it said officials knew his history of drug use and depression.
It also said Herve Jeanot, 29, killed himself in October 2010 after being convicted of murder in his third retrial. There is no procedure for dealing with inmates at risk of suicide after being convicted or sentenced to long prison terms, it said.
(Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst)