Now that the death of an inmate at Niagara County Jail last summer has been ruled a homicide, we’ll wait for the review being conducted by the District Attorney’s Office and a separate investigation by the State Commission of Correction to shed light on the cause of death.
The investigations should provide the answers due to the man’s mother and the public.
As reported in The News, DeJuan L. Hunt II died nine days after a fight with corrections officers. The 25-year-old was found dead in his cell Aug. 29. An autopsy proved inconclusive, the Sheriff’s Office said at the time.
Toxicology tests and a more detailed investigation by the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office resulted in the ruling that Hunt’s death was a homicide.
Sheriff James R. Voutour made it crystal clear that his office “strongly disagrees” with the term homicide, with its suggestion that jailers were at fault.
But the ruling does not necessarily mean his death was a crime. The sheriff said that the medical examiner can choose only from homicide, suicide, accident, natural or undetermined as the cause of death, leaving little room for nuance or the difference between medical and criminal terminology.
Hunt’s mother, however, seems convinced corrections officers were to blame. “They killed my son,” Jenine M. Townsend told a News reporter.
District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek made it clear the term homicide is appropriate when “a death is caused by the direct or indirect action of another.” An independent investigation by her office will determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
The job of a corrections officer is not an easy one. The officers face daily dangers, including the possibility of attacks. Some inmates are mentally unstable. Guards are spit at and have bodily fluids thrown on them. But they must not use unnecessary force on inmates.
The twin investigations underway should determine whether that happened.