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Niagara County DA may probe death of Holding Center inmate

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr. says he has made good on a campaign pledge to ensure that the death of Holding Center inmate Richard A. Metcalf Jr. in 2012 is criminally investigated. Flynn, however, wants the Niagara County District Attorney's Office to conduct the investigation.

Flynn has filed court papers requesting the change. State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns is scheduled to consider the matter at 10 a.m. on Feb. 6.

Flynn, who became district attorney this month, turned to Niagara County DA Caroline Wojtaszek because his office employs a relative of one of the sergeants whose actions will be investigated. Flynn refused to identify the employee, but The News learned the employee is related to Sgt. Robert Dee.

In a report made public in October, the State Commission of Correction said Dee "failed to properly supervise the use of force" on Metcalf. The 35-year-old's body had numerous bruises, welts and broken ribs when placed on an autopsy table in November 2012.

The Commission of Correction also singled out the actions of Holding Center Sgt. Matthew Cross. In an internal Sheriff's Office report, Cross acknowledged placing a spit mask on Metcalf but said it was "loosely secured."

The State Commission of Correction said Sgt. Robert Dee "failed to properly supervise the use of force" on Holding Center inmate Richard A. Metcalf Jr.

The commission, however, said it was knotted tightly around Metcalf's neck, preventing him from breathing.

The commission insists Metcalf died of asphyxia, even though the medical examiner at the time, Dr. Dianne R. Vertes, determined he died of a heart attack. Vertes also determined that the multiple injuries Metcalf suffered during his arrest and incarceration contributed to his demise and ruled the death a homicide. Still, then-District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III placed no charges against jail personnel.

In its report, the commission said the spit mask was placed on Metcalf to prevent him from spitting  blood during a psychotic episode. But not only was it wrongly knotted around his neck, a pillow case was placed over his head -- after Metcalf chewed through the paper-thin mask -- though jail rules prohibit the use of any hood that hinders breathing, the commission noted.

According to the state agency, Sheriff Timothy B. Howard's jail personnel then placed Metcalf face down on an ambulance gurney, making it harder for him to breathe, and blocked ambulance medics from assessing the patient during the minutes they walked him from one of the Holding Center's upper floors to the ambulance. Metcalf's life slipped away during that time, the commission said, because when medics were finally able to lift off the pillow case, cut away the mask and assess the patient, he was in full cardiac arrest.

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