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Mother sues Niagara County over son's death in jail

A mother has sued Niagara County over the death of her son, DeJuan L. Hunt II, last year in the Niagara County Jail.

Jenine M. Townsend of Niagara Falls claims negligence in medical care for her son, whose death was ruled a homicide.

The Niagara County District Attorney's Office announced in June that no criminal charges would be filed.

Buffalo attorney Scott M. Schwartz, who is Townsend's lawyer, said that decision has no bearing on her chances of winning the civil case.

"Criminal charges are different than negligence," Schwartz said Monday.

The lawsuit was filed last week in State Supreme Court.

Hunt, 25, was arrested and jailed Aug. 3, 2016. He was placed on suicide watch because of statements he had made about harming himself, Sheriff James R. Voutour said in February. He was ordered to wear a special suicide prevention vest.

On Aug. 20, according to Voutour, Hunt took the vest off and refused guards' orders to put it back on. When two guards entered his cell to make him do so, Hunt fought them. Other officers also rushed in.

Subduing Hunt took about 10 minutes, during which a police baton was pressed against his shins, which left small marks that were seen at the autopsy.

“The doctor, who worked on this case very diligently, felt there were a couple of injuries on the shins of Mr. Hunt that may have caused a condition called rhabdomyalysis,” Voutour said Feb. 10.

Rhabdomyalysis is a syndrome in which muscle fiber dies and damages the kidneys, sometimes causing them to fail. Hunt died in his cell nine days after the altercation.

District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek said June 30 that corrections officers did nothing improper. She added Hunt had a medical condition that could not have been foreseen by the jail’s medical staff.

Townsend could not be reached Monday.

"There was an altercation, and an escalation of the altercation," Schwartz said. "A lot of facts will come out in discovery."

The lawsuit accuses the county of failing to provide Hunt with "proper and timely medical care."

"We're taking the case very seriously," County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said.

The county will retain Buffalo attorney Brian P. Crosby as defense counsel.

The State Commission of Correction, which investigates all deaths in local jails, has not yet completed its work on the Hunt case. A spokesman said Monday that investigators' reports may not be presented to the commission's Medical Review Board until March.

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