Family files lawsuit over 2012 death of inmate - The Buffalo News

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Family files lawsuit over 2012 death of inmate

Richard Metcalf Jr. was arrested Nov. 27, 2012, in Depew after he allegedly broke into Joseph’s Country Manor and Grove on Columbia Avenue.

He charged at police officers with a heavy metal wrench, and they reportedly used a stun gun on him twice. Because he was acting strangely and had an elevated heart rate, he was taken to Erie County Medical Center and then the Erie County Holding Center.

Three days later, he was dead.

His family blames Erie County, the Sheriff’s Office and nine deputies at the Holding Center. A wrongful-death lawsuit filed against them by the family gives new details about how the 35-year-old man died, including beating at the hands of deputies and an alleged delay in giving him medical evaluation.

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III announced last month that no charges would be filed in Metcalf’s death.

That decision was based on a recommendation in a 500-page State Police report that reviewed the actions of the Depew police and the Sheriff’s Office.

While at the Holding Center, Metcalf had been taken to ECMC for a mental health evaluation because of what authorities termed his bizarre behavior.

Guards reported seeing him picking at his arms with a plastic fork, biting himself and wiping blood on the cell walls. When they tried to restrain him, they quoted him as yelling, “I’m radioactive,” and said he struck his head against the cell bars and a wall.

After that trip to ECMC, authorities said, he was returned to the Holding Center, but the strange behavior continued.

Deputies entered his cell at 10:20 p.m. Nov. 28, 2012, to handcuff him for a return trip to ECMC, according to the suit. Authorities said he resisted the deputies.

The suit says the deputies did not follow policies and procedures for entering the cell and did not make “a proper record of their actions.”

While in the cell, the deputies assaulted Metcalf, the suit alleges. After the beating, he was taken to the Holding Center’s “med room,” with his hands cuffed behind him and his feet bound with a chain.

An ambulance crew was called. When the emergency medical technicians arrived, they found Metcalf in the “med room,” conscious and alert, lying facedown on a medical table with a pillowcase over his head, according to the legal papers.

The deputies put Metcalf facedown on a stretcher and refused to let the EMTs assess his condition, the suit says. It was only after the stretcher was taken to the ambulance that the deputies let them examine him, the suit says.

The EMTs removed the pillowcase from his head and found a spit guard tied tightly around his neck. He was not conscious, was not breathing, had no pulse and was in cardiac arrest, the suit alleges.

The EMTs also noticed significant bruising around his face, neck and lower back, according to the suit. He was rushed to Buffalo General Medical Center, then transferred to ECMC, where he remained unresponsive. His family decided to remove him from life support, and he died Nov. 30, 2012.

The Erie County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide because it occurred while Metcalf was in custody of others. She listed the cause of death as “acute and subacute myocardial infarction” (a heart attack), “congenital biliary atresia (a liver disease) with cirrhosis of the liver and portal hypertension” and “multiple blunt force injuries with associated stress.”

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Buffalo by attorney Michael C. Scinta of the Brown Chiari law firm and attorney Thomas J. Casey, says Metcalf suffered bruises and abrasions all over his body, multiple blunt force injuries and three broken ribs as a result of the defendants’ actions.

It says his treatment at the Holding Center caused or contributed to his death.

The legal papers name the nine deputies individually and in their official capacity: Robert Dee, Matthew Cross, Scott Evans, Michael Anderson, Matthew O’Connell, Edward Kawalek, Robert States, Scott Emerling and Richard Frys.

Besides wrongful death, the suit lists four other causes of action against the defendants: assault, battery and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress; unlawful deprivation of timely medical treatment; injuries resulting from use of excessive force; and negligent hiring, retention and supervision of the nine deputies by the county and Sheriff’s Office.

The county, in a response earlier this year, denies the allegations and asks the court to dismiss the legal action, saying the incident was entirely the result of Metcalf’s conduct and that the family should be barred from recovering any damages for his death.

In the event damages are awarded, it says they should be reduced by however much Metcalf’s “culpable conduct” is found to have contributed to the damages.

It also cites “the culpable conduct of non-parties to the litigation” and says the defendants named in the suit will seek an apportionment of liability against the non-parties, who are not identified.

The county says the defendants “are immune from the instant suit and immune from any liability to plaintiff for damages,” since they acted toward Metcalf “in good faith and with an objectively reasonable belief that their actions were lawful and not in violation of any” of his constitutional rights.

It says the plaintiff cannot recover punitive damages against the county or any of its agents “for acts in their official capacity.”

The Sheriff’s Office determined “that our use of force was justified and proper, and that it did not cause the death of Mr. Metcalf,” Sheriff Tim Howard said last May.

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