Bedbug complaints reported at Garrahy Judicial Complex in Providence; union to file grievance

By Katie Mulvaney
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The presence of bugs crawling on benches and shoes and biting people is being reported and captured in images in Family Court on the fifth floor of the Garrahy Judicial Complex.

The Journal was contacted by multiple people Thursday who said they were concerned about the appearance of bugs at the courthouse.

Sept. 7 email from Supreme Court Administrator J. Joseph Baxter Jr. to court administrators that was forwarded to the staff acknowledged a reported insect issue at Garrahy. In it, Baxter said that the courts had been in contact with the contracted exterminator, and that the unnamed vendor “has assured us all ongoing/weekly inspections and treatment(s) have shown there is no infestations” and that areas requiring treatment had received the same.

Baxter assured administrators that the situation would continue to be monitored and they they would be kept apprised of any updates.

“We monitor our facilities constantly for the safety and well being of our staff and all the visitors to our courthouses,” he wrote.

Kara Picozzi, a spokeswoman for the courts, said the the judiciary contracts with A&D Professional Pest Elimination, which has been doing weekly treatments.

“There is no pest infestation,” Picozzi said. “Administration is monitoring it.”

An email sent by Family Court Chief Judge Michael Forte at 12:45 p.m. Thursday to staff confirmed “reports and evidence of bedbugs in certain sections of the fifth floor corridor.”

“The issue started around the [state Department of Children, Youth and Families] courtroom area of the hallway …,” he wrote. That area, he said, had been heavily sprayed.

He denied that there were “substantiated” reports of bug sightings on any other floor.

David Slepkow, a lawyer who often works in Family Court, expressed outrage.

“If this has been known, don’t they have an obligation to inform the public?” Slepkow said. He wondered how people would be reimbursed if their homes become contaminated with bedbugs.

“Everybody’s freaking out. I don’t even want to step in my car at this point,” he said. He said he feels like he should take his clothes off before he enters his home.

He lamented, too, that he is scheduled to return to Family Court on Friday, in spite of his concerns, or risk losing his client’s case.

“We as lawyers don’t have a choice,” Slepkow said.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has long been a pest – feeding on blood, causing itchy bites and generally irritating their human hosts. They are considered a public health pest, but do not spread disease.

They appear to prefer to feed on humans, and will readily travel 5 to 50 feet from established hiding places to feed on a host, according to the EPA. Although they are primarily active at night, if hungry they will seek hosts in full daylight. Feeding can take 3 to 12 minutes.

Sticky “Catchmaster” traps could be seen at lunchtime Thursday underneath benches in the hallways of the side of the fifth floor facing Dorrance Street. The traps were dated from Aug. 31 through Sept. 7.

A man who declined to be named because he didn’t want to jeopardize his court appearance said, “It’s not a rumor. I just killed one after it tried to climb up my leg.”

J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, a federation of union locals in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said Thursday that the union is filing a health and safety grievance on behalf of the Family Court clerks and deputy sheriffs it represents. The union is requesting that the judiciary take immediate action to eradicate the issue, he said.

Two members, he said, had refused to work in the building and were told they had to use their own time.

“We’re very concerned about this,” Downey said, adding, “We’ll be monitoring the situation for everyone in the building.”

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