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After another inmate death, state needs to examine medical care at Niagara County Jail

Something appears to be amiss at the Niagara County Jail, where four inmates have died in the past four years. The State Commission of Corrections is, appropriately, stepping in to investigate.

The deaths have occurred since the county privatized medical care at the jail. The Niagara County Legislature recently hired its third provider for such medical care in less than a year. The latest death may not be linked to the medical care, but an investigation is needed to determine if changes are necessary.

The corrections agency has opened an investigation into the Aug. 29 death of inmate DeJuan L. Hunt II.

Hunt, 25, of Niagara Falls, was found unresponsive in his cell. He was in jail after being charged with two sexual assaults. One allegedly occurred July 19 and the other Aug. 3 on the Niagara County Community College campus in Sanborn.

An Aug. 31 account in The News detailed the serious charges against him: first-degree sexual abuse and forcible touching. Police said Hunt came to the campus in broad daylight on Aug. 3, grabbed a female student as she walked down a hallway and forced her into a stairwell. The victim alerted college staff members. Hunt was apprehended on an NFTA bus in the City of Niagara Falls.

A few days later, while still in jail, Hunt was charged with third-degree sexual abuse in connection with a July 19 attack at the college.

Hunt’s mother, Jenine Townsend, does not believe the accusations leveled against her son. She says that when she last visited him Aug. 24, he had a gash over one eye and there was bruising around that area and indications he had been hit with a Taser. She said he told her he had been beaten by jail guards. She added that her son suffered from mental health issues and had been off his medication.

Sheriff James R. Voutour said Hunt was watched all night before he was found dead in his bed at 6 a.m. Aug. 29. The Aug. 30 autopsy did not determine the cause of death. Voutour said the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office has indicated to him that it might be another month before toxicology test results are known.

Two inmates died in December 2012 and one in October 2014. The Commission of Corrections said the first two were the result of inadequate medical care. Lawsuits by survivors alleged inadequate care. One suit was settled for $100,000, and the other two cases remain open.

The State Commission of Corrections should act expeditiously in getting to the bottom of this latest death. If the delivery of medical services remains inadequate, county officials will have to act to ensure inmates’ safety while in the jail.

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