Lawsuits filed over inmate deaths at Niagara County Jail - The Buffalo News
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Lawsuits filed over inmate deaths at Niagara County Jail

LOCKPORT – The daughter of Tommie Lee Jones Jr., an inmate who died in the Niagara County Jail last year, filed suit against the county and the jail’s medical services provider Friday, claiming negligence led to her father’s death.

It was the second wrongful-death lawsuit filed in State Supreme Court against the Sheriff’s Office in the past 10 days.

On Dec. 10, the ex-wife of Daniel Pantera, who died in custody four days before Jones, also sued the county and Armor Correctional Health Services of New York, the company that replaced the county jail’s medical staff last year.

Pantera, 46, of North Tonawanda, died on Christmas Day 2012. Jones, 51, of Niagara Falls, died Dec. 29.

The suit over Jones’ death was filed on behalf of his 21-year-old daughter, Maria Escatera, of Buffalo.

Her attorney, Gregory P. Krull of the Lipsitz Green law firm, said Jones, who was being held as a parole violator, had a long history of medical woes. Krull said Jones had undergone heart bypass surgery and had a pacemaker, and had been taken from the jail to Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport earlier in the month to be treated for shortness of breath and congestive heart failure.

Inmates who wrote to The Buffalo News after the death asserted in a six-page letter that Jones “literally begged the staff, both correctional and medical, to take him to the hospital. On Friday, Dec. 28, his condition had visibly worsened, but jail staff acted as if they did not see the dying man.”

The letter said Jones laid down in his cell after breakfast the next morning and didn’t wake up. Staff tried to revive him, and he was taken by ambulance to Eastern Niagara, where he was pronounced dead.

There was less information about the Pantera death. The plaintiff is his ex-wife, Dawn Pantera, of Amherst, who is raising the couple’s two teenage children.

Her attorney, James A. Vandette, declined to say what Pantera’s medical problems were. Sheriff James R. Voutour said earlier this week, “He was sick when he came in.”

Vandette said, “The jail and the medical unit really failed this guy. He had a medical condition, and the jail knew or should have known about it. That’s the main issue of the case.”

Records showed that Pantera was being held in lieu of $250 bail on a charge of obstructing governmental administration, and he also had a bench warrant for failing to appear in court on an unlicensed-driving charge.

Voutour declined to comment on the Jones litigation. A spokeswoman for the commission said the Pantera and Jones cases are still being probed. She said no report is expected until spring.

Krull said that he filed a Freedom of Information request with the county but that it was denied. “They said, ‘It’s under investigation. We’re not giving you anything,’ ” Krull said.

Armor was hired by the County Legislature in October 2012 to provide nursing and medical services at the jail, with an estimated annual savings of about $800,000 over the cost of the county’s own medical staff and supplies.


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