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DA: No charges in death of Niagara County Jail inmate

No charges will be filed in the death of Niagara County Jail inmate DeJuan L. Hunt II, even though an Erie County medical examiner ruled it a homicide, the Niagara County district attorney announced Friday.

District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek said her office conducted an independent investigation that no crime was committed: Corrections officers did nothing improper and Hunt had a medical condition that could not have been foreseen by the jail's medical staff, she said.

"Homicide has a different definition for a medical examiner," Wojtaszek said. She said it is the only box a medical examiner can check if the death doesn't fit the other possible categories: suicide, accident, natural or undetermined.

Wojtaszek said the case was not presented to a grand jury, and will not be.

"There was absolutely nothing to present," she said.

Hunt's mother, who said she plans a civil lawsuit against the county, did not accept the results of the probe.

"I just feel they're covering it up, to tell you the truth," Jenine M. Townsend said Friday.

Hunt, the suspect in two sexual assaults last summer at Niagara County Community College in Sanborn, died in jail Aug. 29, nine days after he fought with corrections officers. He was 25.

According to information released by Sheriff James R. Voutour at a Feb. 10 news conference, the forensic report on Hunt's death indicated he had a couple of marks on his shins that might have led to rhabdomyolysis, a syndrome in which muscle fiber dies and damages the kidneys, sometimes causing them to fail.

Hunt was jailed Aug. 3 and placed on suicide watch because of talk about harming himself. His clothes were taken away and he was made to wear a special vest intended to prevent suicide.

On Aug. 20, Hunt took the vest off and when two officers entered his cell to make him put it back on, Hunt resisted and struggled for about 10 minutes. Four or five officers eventually were involved in forcing him into a restraint chair.

In the course of subduing Hunt, a corrections officer pressed a police baton against Hunt's shins, Voutour told reporters.

"I've seen those pictures and I know what my son looked like. He was beat," Townsend said. "They're saying it was a protein imbalance or something. My son was a healthy child."

She previously told The Buffalo News that she visited her son Aug. 24 and saw a gash over his eye and bruising around it. She said her son told her he had been beaten by corrections officers.

At the Feb. 10 news conference, Voutour denied those statements, but said there was a small mark over Hunt's eye.

Townsend said she learned of the outcome of the criminal investigation from her attorney Thursday.

The investigation was led by Second Assistant District Attorney Mary-Jean Bowman and Assistant District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann, chief of the Violent Crimes Bureau.

William Thomson, an investigator for the DA's Office, interviewed all witnesses, Wojtaszek said. Hunt's full medical records were subpoenaed, and 17 hours of surveillance video footage from the jail were viewed.

Wojtaszek said she also sought outside help with the probe from independent physicians.

"We hired two experts, no one we've ever used before. One of them was from San Diego. It's more that he cleared them than we cleared them," Wojtaszek said.

Her office released a statement saying, "The independent investigation found that actions by the corrections officers were proper, and their administration did not exceed acceptable parameters. Further, medical analysis revealed that, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, Mr. Hunt's medical condition could not have been foreseen by medical staff. Lastly, the independent investigation determined that there was no deviation from the standard of care by the Niagara County Jail medical providers."

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