By Tony Farina
The family of a 35-year-old man who died after being held briefly at the Erie County Holding Center has already commenced a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, the Sheriff’s Department, and several deputies, but now the state Commission of Corrections has issued a report that the inmate’s death “was a Homicide caused by the restraint methods” used by deputies.
The state agency’s Medical Review Board rejected the conclusion of the Erie County medical examiner that Richard Metcalf died “from Acute and Sub-Acute Myocardial Infarction,” or heart attack, on Nov. 30, 2012 at the Erie County Medical Center.
The Medical Review Board wrote in its final report that the “restraint episode, pictures of a spit mask tied in ligature fashion around Metcalf’s neck, a pillow case over Metcalf’s head, blood in Metcalf’s airways, and the transport of Metcalf in a prone position on the ambulance gurney are evidence of the classic elements of a death that was caused directly by traumatic asphyxia with the compression of the torso and neck,” rejecting the heart attack conclusion. According to the report, Metcalf had no history of heart problems.
The board said that Metcalf was hospitalized after a “prolonged use of force and an improper restraint” by deputies while held at the Holding Center, a facility that has come under attack over the years from state and federal regulators for its high suicide rate and conditions of confinement. As a result of a 2011 agreement resulting in the dismissal of a federal lawsuit against the county concerning conditions at the jail, the county agreed to regular inspections by federal monitors.
While the county medical examiner’s original finding that Metcalf’s death was a homicide attributable to three causes: a heart attack, liver disease, and multiple blunt-force injuries, the new report urges the Erie County district attorney to take notice of the Medical Review Board’s findings that the newly released evidence “that supports that Metcalf’s cause of death was a homicide due to traumatic asphyxia, and initiate a criminal investigation into the matter.”
While there was an initial investigation by the State Police into Metcalf’s death, requested by then District Atty. Frank Sedita, no charges were ever filed and a grand jury was not convened to review the case.
When contacted about the findings of the state’s Medical Review Board, Acting DA Michael Flaherty said “it would be inappropriate to comment on the prosecution. I will speak to my colleagues to determine the most appropriate course of action.”
Among other recommendations by the Medical Review Board include:
– lawmakers appoint a physician to the jail
– the assistant attorney general for civil rights take notice of the findings and initiate both individual criminal civil rights investigations and an investigation into the Sheriff Dept.’s confinement and treatment of Metcalf
– the sheriff develop crisis intervention training for deputies to identify and safely manage inmates with mental illness who are in a crisis state
The Medical Review Board said in its report that “had Metcalf received appropriate crisis level mental health care for his acute psychosis with proper restraint methods and pharmacologic interventions, and had been the subject of a properly supervised use of force, his death could have been prevented.”
The State Police investigation had found that Metcalf’s family and friends reported that he displayed increasingly bizarre and erratic behavior before his arrest and struggled with the arresting Depew officers. Metcalf was noted to have a paranoid thought process and believed there were people following him.
Metcalf was originally arrested by Depew police on burglary charges on Nov. 27 before being brought to the Holding Center.