There’s going to be a new sheriff in town.
Nassau County Sheriff Vera Fludd announced on Jan. 13 that after nearly two years in the position — and 33 years at the Nassau County Correctional Center — she will retire at the end of January.
The county received 50 resumes from applicants for the sheriff’s position, and whittled the list down to 10 to 15 candidates who are being interviewed, according to Christine Geed, a county spokeswoman.
The search for a new sheriff comes while officials grapple with changes made to the state’s new bail laws that have led to the release of nearly 300 inmates from the county jail since Nov. 1.
Fludd, 58, of Freeport, spoke with the Herald on Tuesday, when she joined law enforcement officials from both Nassau and Suffolk counties to discuss the formation of a “Common-Sense Coalition” that will recommend bail reform amendments to Albany lawmakers.
“We know it needs to be revised and looked at again,” she said of the new law. “I’m not a lawyer, but judges should have more of a say about an inmate’s release. There needs to be more discretion.”
Fludd had intended to retire in early 2018, she said, but deferred her plans when County Executive Laura Curran appointed her acting sheriff that January. She was confirmed three months later. Since then she has brought in roughly 100 new correction officers in three graduating classes, one of which was the largest of the decade, with 40 graduates.
The new recruits were the first to be trained in mental health first aid and equipped with Narcan. The jail also expanded its drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, introduced Medicaid enrollment for inmates and brought in vocational training and discharge-planning programs to help them plan their post-incarceration lives.
The jail has also seen a number of infrastructure improvements, including lighting repairs, a storm water drainage system and a new shelter for visitors, coming this spring.
Curran called Fludd a “trailblazer” as the first woman, and the first African-American, to be sheriff.
“She has always made safety her first focus, while striving to promote professionalism among all her staff members,” Curran said. “I join many others in celebrating her distinguished career, and I thank her for her extraordinary service to the people of Nassau County.”
Roughly three years ago, when Fludd was working under then Sheriff Michael Sposato, county Democrats called on him to resign after a string of deaths and lawsuits during his tenure.
Six inmates died in 2016, and that July, then state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the jail’s privatized health care provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, for “allegedly failing to provide the proper medical services to inmates.” Armor agreed to a three-year ban on operating in the state and paid a $350,000 fine, although admitting to no wrongdoing. Its contract ended in May 2017, and Nassau University Medical Center has since taken on the role of inmate health care provider.
Fludd said that a lot had changed at the jail since then, and that she believed public trust had been restored under her leadership. She noted her “open-door policy” when it comes to communicating with groups invested in the jail’s operations and inmate treatment, such as the New York Civil Liberties Union. “I haven’t heard from them recently, and I knew things have improved,” she said, “so there’s not much to talk about.”
She also said that her relationship with the Correction Officers Benevolent Association and its president, Brian Sullivan, has improved, despite the fact that he called for her resignation last July. At the time, Sullivan said that gang activity and weapon use had skyrocketed during Fludd’s tenure, and she had not taken appropriate steps to prevent them.
“He has a job to do to support the correction officers, and I have a job to do to manage them,” Fludd said of Sullivan. “Of course we’re not going to agree on everything, but the main thing we agree on is the safety of the officers. And that has not been compromised.”
Sullivan wished Fludd well, but declined to comment further.
One of the reasons she decided to retire, she said, is to spend more time with her children and grandchildren — another grandchild is expected in March.
“This time I just want to stay and enjoy it a bit,” she said, adding that she planned to be a stay-at-home mom for the first time and take care of her eight children, two of whom are still in school in the Freeport School District.
“It’s time to get out and live,” she said. “It’s bittersweet. The jail has been in my heart and mind and head every day for 35 years.”