April 05, 2006
Legal Action Continues After Apparent Suicide
Gary A. Feinberg, 48, a physician's assistant at the Suffolk County Jail, was killed by a Long Island Rail Road train in an apparent suicide on March 27. Feinberg was struck by the eastbound train at about 11:35 p.m. and pronounced dead at the scene at the Abraham's Path crossing in Amagansett, according to LIRR officials.
The Sag Harbor resident had been arrested in February and charged with five counts of official misconduct and 16 counts of sexual abuse in the second degree for allegedly fondling six female inmates while they received medical attention at the jail over the course of seven months. Feinberg pleaded not guilty to the charges.
One of those women, Rochelle Ramos, 40, filed a $10 million notice of claim last week against Feinberg for his alleged abusive behavior and against the county for its imprudence in hiring Feinberg, its poor supervision, and potential deliberate indifference by not following up on complaints made in the past.
Feinberg's death has not changed Ramos's legal course of action against the county, according to her attorney Robert Valli of Leeds, Morelli & Brown in Garden City.
Ramos, of Hempstead, was serving time for a probation violation — she had been convicted of forging medical prescriptions. A car accident several years ago left her wheelchair-bound for two years and during that time, she became addicted to painkillers, Valli said.
His client was serving time in the Nassau County jail when she reportedly had stomach pains and was diagnosed with a hernia. Ramos later witnessed an encounter between prisoners "that might have endangered her life," and guards moved her to the Suffolk County jail for protection. Despite her previous medical checkup, her condition required her to have a pre-admission medical exam. Feinberg was the attending physician.
What "doesn't make sense" is that there was reportedly a female physician's assistant in the room at first but she left, said Valli. "If you're a female prisoner, you're going to have a female attendant. There should have been a female attendant."
On or around December 28, Feinberg allegedly molested Ramos without using a glove. Although startled, "she doesn't scream," the attorney recounted. "She thinks 'if I scream I'm going to get in trouble.'"
When the exam is over, "He then stands her up and tells her how beautiful she is and tries to kiss her," said Valli, who is looking to speak with the other women who claim Feinberg abused them.
It is unclear if any policy has been established that requires a female attendant to be present during medical checkups of female inmates, and Valli will be investigating the matter.
Members of The Suffolk County Health Department, which runs the jail's medical unit and hired Feinberg in 2002, declined to comment.
Some have speculated that Feinberg's possible suicide implies guilt and makes the county vulnerable to further lawsuits.
Suffolk County Attorney Christine Malafi, who is handling the case, acknowledged that more people may come forward but she believes the county might be protected by the Dead Man's Statute. The law is designed to protect the decedent from fraudulent claims in civil cases by prohibiting a witness who may have something to gain from testifying about communication or transactions with the deceased.
Malafi also emphasized that it is unfair to assume Feinberg was committing suicide because he was guilty, or that the tragedy was even a suicide.
"Committing suicide just means you're going through something in your life that you can't handle," she said. "You could say that he couldn't handle all of these accusations coming out . . . that were false." As far as she knew, there were also no obvious signs of suicide, such as a note, she added.
A funeral service was held for Feinberg on Sunday at the North Haven Community Center.