Josh Price, “Broome jail needs transparency on deaths,” Press and Sun Bulletin November 11, 2016.
Broome County Sheriff David Harder needs to come clean about how and why so many people have died at the jail over the past two years.
He and his administration have blocked efforts by the press, families or community advocates to learn any details. Who was responsible? We need transparency and accountability.
News sources reported recently that there have been three deaths in the past year at the county jail. But according to the New York Commission of Correction, four men have died at the Broome County Jail since January 2015. These men have names: Salladin Barton (Jan. 14, 2015), Vachon Denis (Nov. 1, 2015), Kevin Carroll (Sept. 30, 2016) and Kenneth Richard Gunmoe (Oct. 22, 2016). Barton and Carroll had been waiting in jail for their day in court for more than a year. Since they had not been found guilty of anything, they were legally innocent.
Recently, Press & Sun reporter Hannah Schwarz asked Sheriff Harder if the jail planned to make any policy changes in response to two recent deaths at the Broome County Jail. “There’s no reason to,” he said. This bold defiance reveals an utter disavowal of any institutional responsibility for the mounting death count, not to mention a profound lack of sympathy or human compassion for the bereaved. The awful health care and disregard for human life represent a long-standing pattern.
I should know. In cooperation with the Broome/Tioga NAACP, I undertook an investigation of health care at the jail from 2004 to 2007. We interviewed people facing physical and mental health issues. It wasn’t only the medical unit that was responsible for poor health care, I discovered, but the entire institution. From unclean water and unhygienic conditions, to poor heating, lackadaisical (or outright abusive) corrections officers, the problems were systematic.
As part of an NAACP delegation, we met with Sheriff Harder and jail administrator Mark Smolinsky several times. In each case, we were assured that there was no problem with health care delivery and that everything was fine.
Things are not fine. And they may be getting worse. In another death at the jail in 2011, the State Commission of Correction found that Alvin Rios died due to negligence by the jail’s medical provider, the for-profit company Correctional Medical Care (CMC). According to the report, Mr. Rios was “laying face down and shaking” while medical and jail staff did nothing. The county settled with the family for $62,000.
Since Salladin Barton died in solitary confinement in 2015, I have spoken with his family dozens of times. They are desperate for information about Salladin, a mentally ill man who had filed request after request for medical treatment.
The county executive and county legislature, and the district attorney’s office have given the sheriff a free pass.
It’s up to us. We all deserve information about Salladin. And Kevin. And Kenneth. And Vachon. It is in our public interest to know how and why they died. Sheriff Harder’s intransigence poses a significant ongoing hazard.
Joshua M. Price is a professor in the Department of Sociology at Binghamton University.