NY Attorney General Investigating Death of Woman in Police Custody

Originally published on August 4, 2015, at NationofChange.org

After signing an executive order to investigate and prosecute the deaths of civilians caused by law enforcement officers, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered his attorney general to launch a probe into the death of a woman recently found dead in her holding cell. Although the Westchester District Attorney’s Office was initially handling the investigation, Gov. Cuomo assigned the state’s attorney general to take over in order to ensure an investigation and prosecution without conflict or bias at the local level.

Arrested on July 25 for allegedly stealing a box of crab legs from a Restaurant Depot in Westchester, Raynette Turner, 42, was taken to jail and charged with shoplifting. The next evening, Turner told the guards that she felt ill and was taken to Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital. After receiving treatment for hypertension, Turner was returned to her cell to await her arraignment the following day.

On July 27, Turner was transferred to a holding area at the courthouse when she reportedly vomited while awaiting her arraignment. Instead of taking Turner back to the hospital, officers moved her to a cell downstairs and reported last seeing her alive between noon and 1 p.m. Although the guards are supposed to check the cells every 15 minutes, Turner was found dead in her cell around 2 p.m.

According to the Westchester District Attorney’s Office, Turner’s initial autopsy was inconclusive. Awaiting the results of microbiology and toxicology tests, the medical examiner has stated that the analyses could take several weeks to conclude.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced on Monday that his office’s Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit is currently investigating Turner’s death, consistent with Executive Order No. 147. On July 8, Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order assigning a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute matters relating to deaths of civilians caused by law enforcement officers. Due to the fact that the Westchester District Attorney’s Office works with the Mount Vernon Police Department, Cuomo has ordered Schneiderman to investigate her death without conflict or bias at the local level, or the public perception of conflict or bias.

Arrested on an outstanding bench warrant for shoplifting, Joyce Curnell, 50, was reportedly taken to a hospital for an apparent medical issue according to sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson. Around 5 p.m. on July 22, guards at the Charleston County Detention Center found Curnell unresponsive in her cell. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating her death.

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