An inmate awaiting sentencing at the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden died Sunday morning, turning attention on the Erie County Sheriff's Office just before Election Day.
Prior to Sunday, 22 inmates had died since Tim Howard was elected sheriff in 2005. Sunday's death brings the total to 23. Initial reports indicate the inmate died of natural causes and received immediate medical attention.
Sheriff's officials said David Stitt, 63, of Hamburg, died of an apparent heart attack. He had been awaiting sentencing for having sexual contact with a child.
Stitt collapsed in the common area of the housing unit Sunday morning, according to a news release from the Sheriff's Office. Correctional officers "immediately performed CPR" and called medical personnel. The medical personnel responded quickly, and they continued performing CPR, the Sheriff's Office said.
They tried to use an automated external defibrillator but the equipment advised workers not to shock the patient. The medical staff continued to perform CPR until an ambulance crew arrived. Erie County Medical Center personnel pronounced Stitt deceased, the news release said.
"The Sheriff’s Office has completed and submitted the necessary reports to the New York State Commission on Corrections within the mandated timetable," sheriff's officials said.
A spokesman for the Corrections Commission said the agency was notified at 8:30 a.m. Sunday about the death.
"The Commission is investigating as it does with all deaths occurring at state prisons, county jails or police lockups," said Justin Mason, spokesman for the state Commission of Correction.
Stitt was in jail awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in September to one count of "course of sexual conduct against a child," according to the Erie County District Attorney's Office.
Stitt had "admitted to having oral sexual contact with a 5-year-old child several times between June of 2016 and May of 2017" and also to taking sexually explicit photographs of that child, the DA's office said in a statement. The case was investigated by the State Police. In the DA's statement, Stitt was described as being from the Town of Boston.
Stitt faced up to 25 years in state prison. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 21 before State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski.
The timing of this latest death has refocused attention on safety at county jails as the Republican sheriff seeks a fourth term in office. But early information provided by the Sheriff's Office does not indicate mistreatment by other inmates or staff.
Howard's Democratic challenger, Bernie Tolbert, has criticized the high number of inmate deaths under Howard's tenure as part of his campaign to defeat him in Tuesday's election. However, Tolbert acknowledged Monday that he is not criticizing the sheriff for deaths resulting from natural causes.
"We haven't made an issue of those at all," he said, though he called upon Howard to be transparent in his investigation of the latest death.
Howard offered no additional comment on the death beyond the details his office released on Monday. He has previously said that many inmates come to county jails with existing health issues. He also said that since the Sheriff's Office has been given the funding to hire more corrections officers and deputies, the number of inmate deaths per year has fallen.
The Sheriff's Office reported no deaths in 2015. India Cummings, 27, died in custody last year. A pathologist said the cause and manner of her death were "undetermined." Vincent Sorrentino, 31, was being held on drug charges when he hanged himself in a shower stall in July.
Sheriff's Office spokesman Scott Zylka noted that inmate medical care previously fell under the purview of the Erie County Department of Health until the Division of Correctional Health was officially transferred to the Sheriff’s Office earlier this year.