Eleven inmates in a suburban county of New York are suing the area for $500 million - and some dental floss. Their federal civil rights lawsuit says that their lack of dental floss is causing them severe pain. They also argue that the lack of access to floss is causing them to lose their teeth.
Led by Santiago Gomez, the 11 plaintiffs say that they brush three times a day, including their tongue and gums, but they still suffer from cavities, bleeding gums and mental anguish. They also say that they need to undergo constant dental work for temporary fillings which, according to Gomez, last only for three or four weeks. "What they do is after they give you a hole so big in your tooth they're telling you, 'Well, extract the saveable [sic] tooth or suffer in pain,'" Gomez said in a phone interview. "The only medication that the new department they have here is providing is Motrin."
Gomez, who has previously been convicted for weapons charges, says that he has been in other prisons where dental floss was offered as an option. He said, "They recognize the importance of it, that you have to floss, in the regulation manual. They clearly state if you don't floss you're going to get cavities."
But the Deputy Correction Commissioner Justin Pruyne defended the ban, saying that jails are not required to provide dental floss. He added, "That being said, at present we are looking into whether there are appropriate items out there in the community that could be used in a jail setting."
Two different sheriff's departments New York counties said that they did not allow their inmates to have free access to dental floss. Inmates were allowed to floss under the supervision of a nurse in the office, however.
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care said that dental floss could potentially be a security problem, pointing to cases in which dental floss was used to attack other inmates or when inmates had tried to use it to saw their way out of the barred windows.
Gomez filed the lawsuit without a lawyer. He named as defendants Westchester County, Correction Commissioner Kevin Cherveko, two dentists that serve the Valhalla jail, and Correct Care Solutions, the company that is contracted to provide health care to the inmates.
Santiago Gomez previously sued Yonkers and eight city police officers in May, for claiming that they ignored his cries that he was having respiratory problems. He also stated that they fractured his ankle and that police never returned an ankle splint that they took. Though Gomez said that an X-ray at an area hospital confirmed the fracture, an examination report said that there was no such evidence of a fracture.
Two weeks after the first lawsuit, Gomez filed another lawsuit against a corrections officer and two nurses, saying that he had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from the event. Both cases are still pending.
Gomez is serving time in prison for attempted possession of a weapon in the second degree. He pled guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in December.