Bedbugs infest Staten Island's 120th Precinct lockup

Staten Island Advance
Thursday, July 7, 2011

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- A bedbug problem has spurred the NYPD to shut down the holding-cell area in the 120th Precinct station in St. George, leading the city's Department of Correction to summon an exterminator to make sure the pests haven't spread to the pens in Stapleton Criminal Court, according to multiple NYPD and court insiders. 

For the last few days, prisoners have been diverted to holding cells in precincts off-Island while exterminators fumigate the holding cells, sources tell the Advance. 

"The prisoners were relocated to another police holding facility while the problem is being addressed and the situation rectified," confirmed Detective Cheryl Crispin, an NYPD spokeswoman, last night. She did not elaborate.

Now several police officers are worried that they might have brought the bedbugs home with them, sources said. 

The holding cells at the precinct are notoriously grimy, and last month a masseuse filed a lawsuit against the city claiming she'd been held in a "filthy, unhygienic cell" last summer and forced to clean an overflowing toilet. 

The latest problems unfolded when a prisoner being held in one of the cells complained about finding bedbugs, said sources. 

The brass at the precinct looked into it, and "there were some critters found in the area where the cell attendant works," according to one NYPD insider. 

That led police to fumigate the cells on Wednesday, but it didn't take - when prisoners started returning to the cells about 7 p.m., another bedbug complaint forced cops to shut the cells down again an hour later, police sources said. 

"They're trying to process as few people as they can through there," said one source. 

As of last night, prisoners were being rerouted to the 61st Precinct in Coney Island, as they await transfer to court, sources said. 

The situation also has attracted the interest of the city Department of Correction, which is sending an exterminator into the holding cell area of the Stapleton Criminal Court, where criminal defendants are taken after being held at the precinct station. 

"We are aware of concerns in the Staten Island 120 Precinct regarding bedbugs," wrote Correction spokeswoman Sharman Stein in an e-mailed statement yesterday. "DOC will have an exterminator go out tomorrow [Friday] to inspect our Staten Island court facilities [holding pens]. If there is a problem, we will arrange to treat the pens with a combination of steam and chemicals when the pens are empty - over the weekend." 

She added, "At this time, we have no reports of staff or inmates complaining about bedbug bites."

Arlene Hackel, a spokeswoman for the state court system, said the Stapleton Criminal Court building has had no problems with bedbugs, and that the court has been operating as normal. 

One inmate was found to have a bedbug on him while in a transport van to the court, but "he was removed, and the van he was in was taken care of," Ms. Hackel said. 

One defense attorney, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that bedbugs have been a problem in the holding cells for several months, and about a month ago, a defendant emerged from a cell with "bites all over his body." 

Last month, 31-year-old Gabrielle Vignolini filed a federal lawsuit against the city, the NYPD and several unnamed officers, alleging she'd been held in one of the precinct station's cells for 17 hours last August, then released without so much as a summons. 

She contended the cell's water fountain was broken and the toilet was overflowing and depositing waste and water onto the floor. Ms. Vignolini alleged that police denied her request to be placed in another lockup, and just before her release, a female officer ordered her and another prisoner - the owner of the spa where she'd been taken into custody - to wipe up the cell floor. 

Ms. Vignolini is a licensed massage therapist and was working as an independent contractor at Morounfola Beauty Spa on Water Street in Stapleton, according to court papers. She was arrested during a sweep while the spa was holding a "friends-and-family event" for invited guests prior to the business' public opening a week later, according to the lawsuit. 

Ms. Vignolini alleges she was never issued a summons or arraigned on any criminal charges, and a spokesman for District Attorney Daniel Donovan confirmed that the office declined to charge Ms. Vignolini.