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Long Island jail guard attack caused by liberal law change: union

A Long Island correction officer’s union is fuming over a new state law — spearheaded by Brooklyn progressive state Sen. Julia Salazar — asserting it’s fueled a detainee’s bloody attack on a jail guard and an overall spike in violence inside lockups.

Alleged gangbanger Thomas Bell kicked and punched staff inside Nassau County Correctional Facility last month just three days after the union accused him of being part of an attack on a fellow inmate — for which he was never disciplined, union and county officials said.

The Nassau County Sheriff’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association blames legislation passed by state Senate and Assembly Democrats — and signed in 2021 by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — that went into effect April 1.

Called the Humane Alternatives to Long Term Solitary Confinement Act, or HALT, the law aims to drastically reduce solitary confinement that separates inmates from the general population.

The guards’ union disagrees with the whole premise.

“You have to be able to separate violent predators inside jails just like outside jail from the general population,” Nassau Correction Officers Benevolent Association president Brian Sullivan told The Post, lamenting HALT has sparked an increase in violence inside jails and prisons.

Nassau COBA President Brian Sullivan
Nassau Correction Officers Benevolent Association president Brian Sullivan believes separation is best for these circumstances.
The Union of Nassau COBA

HALT advocates, however, insist an inmate’s isolation in other parts of the detention facility can lead to mental anguish, sometimes within hours — and wind up causing even more erratic behavior.

“We see that they’re more likely to be victims of assault, they’re more likely to be engaged in violent behavior themselves because they have just been de-socialized,” John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Jeffrey Coots told The Post.

HALT stops the use of segregated confinement for vulnerable populations and mandates a hearing before any inmate can be moved.  

Also, if an inmate is placed in segregated housing, it can only be for 15 days, a drastic drop before HALT was implemented. Inmates also are allowed more time out of their cell while in segregated units under HALT.

photo of the injured guard
The Long Island jail guard was brutally injured after he was attacked by inmates.

The statistics since HALT’s implementation are concerning.

In January and February, the correctional facility recorded 15 incidents that required use of force by officers; by June and July that number soared to 30 and 31, according to data on the incidents.

In March—the month before HALT’s implementation—there were 25 use of force incidents, but the union believes that was an anomaly, noting inmates knew the more liberal policy was going into effect. The same month also saw gang flare-ups.

The first incident that allegedly involved Bell was Aug. 22 after he and other inmates were accused of assaulting and stabbing another inmate, who suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs and cuts to his face and torso, the union said.

Following the assault, the violent detainee was found with a shank in his cell, according to the union. Documents obtained by The Post show a report in which a sharpened piece of metal was found.

A disciplinary report was written up on Bell, a Nassau County spokesperson confirmed.

He remains jailed pending a resolution to a robbery case in January, when he hit with multiple charges, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office said.

On Aug. 25, Bell refused to return to his cell after the distribution of medication to detainees — and instead lunged at staff with his fists raised and a sheet wrapped around his face to block being sprayed, the union alleged.

Sen. Julia Salazar
Sen. Julia Salazar is receiving backlash for the new bill that union workers disagree with.
Paul Martinka

After he was sprayed, Bell struggled with correction officers, punching and kicking before he was handcuffed and removed by an emergency response team, according to the union. Three officers were injured, the union said.

The Post obtained a jail report detailing the incident that stated the officer was struck multiple times.

One officer told The Post he was so badly hurt he lost consciousness briefly.

“I remember at one point I was being pulled up and I looked down and I was covered in my own blood,” recounted the officer Brian S., who didn’t want to give his full name due to safety concerns.

“I could feel the blood dripping out of my face, I didn’t know whose it was at first and then I realized it was from me,” he said.

After the second incident, the county said the inmate got a hearing and was placed in administrative segregation. The union said the inmate was also put in shackles outside of the housing area for up to 15 days.

“The incidents are under investigation and no further information is available at this time,” the county spokesperson said earlier this month, adding the inmate could face criminal charges.

Nassau County Executive Bruce A. Blakeman
Nassau County Executive Bruce A. Blakeman disagrees with the idea behind HALT.
Dennis A. Clark

The spokesperson, who works on behalf of Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, called HALT a “dangerous law” that should be immediately repealed because it “handcuffs our correction officers and puts them further in harm’s way.”

The county had no further updates Friday as the investigation continues.

Bell’s lawyer, Michael DerGarabedian, bluntly told The Post that “I wouldn’t believe any of that because [that] action would have led to him being arrested and charged. He was not.” 

DerGarabedian didn’t elaborate in requests for further comment.

Sullivan said before HALT, Bell’s first alleged attack would have “100%” led to his facing segregated housing — and could’ve prevented the subsequent attack.

The union head directs much of his ire toward Salazar and lawmakers who unfairly compared major issues at Rikers Island with correctional facilities outside the city.

“The complete indifference of people like Julia Salazar is absolutely sickening to me,” Sullivan said.

Salazar told The Post that Sullivan works in a jail and doesn’t understand HALT’s impact on prisons. She asserted she’s visited jails and prisons across the state since the bill passed to monitor how it’s worked out.

“I care deeply about the implementation of HALT, which is precisely why I take the opportunity to correct the misinformation that Nassau COBA attempts to spread about HALT,” she said.

“Humane alternatives to solitary confinement make jails and prisons safer for every person in the facilities, both staff and incarcerated individuals.”

 Julia Salazar
“The complete indifference of people like Julia Salazar is absolutely sickening to me,” Sullivan said.
AP/Hans Pennink

The Nassau jail has recently seen the resignation in early September of Sheriff James Dzurenda, who oversaw the correctional facility

Sullivan panned Dzurenda’s leadership, including his shutting down the segregated unit after HALT went into effect. He blasted Dzurenda “an incompetent administrator” who contributed to the violence in the facility.

Dzurenda told Newsday he stepped down because he was frustrated by the job.

A raid after a new acting sheriff was put in place this month led to “startling” results where weapons, drugs and other contraband were found in the jail, Blakeman said at a press conference this month.

Sullivan also lamented that residential rehabilitation units included in the HALT legislation to provide better resources to inmates don’t exist in the jail because there’s been little funding from the state and county. Instead, inmates who would land there are just shuffled between general housing areas, he said.

“It all sounds great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t exist,” Sullivan said.

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