NEW YORK (AP) — A suburban New York police department has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the 2015 jail death of a mother of eight, concluding the first investigation the state's top prosecutor undertook since being appointed to investigate fatal police encounters.
The probe into Raynette Turner's death while she was still in custody at the Mount Vernon Police Department in July 2015 found officers bore no "criminal culpability," said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
"The fact that we find that a homicide prosecution would be unstainable doesn't mean there weren't things that happened that weren't wrong," he said at a news conference Thursday, following the seven-month investigation.
The attorney general's office released several policy recommendations for the police department, including measures that would speed up arraignments of arrestees and add additional attendants to supervise arrestees.
"Her death was a tragedy," he said. "There is really no good reason why someone arrested for shoplifting needs to wait 48 hours in jail before being arraigned."
New York's top court has ruled that suspects should be arraigned within 24 hours of their arrest. Authorities have said that the timing of Turner's arrest forced her to be held over the weekend until court resumed on Monday.
Police officials in Mount Vernon, a city of about 68,000 residents that borders New York City, said Turner was arrested July 25, 2015, a Saturday, for stealing a package of crab legs from a wholesale food store. While awaiting a Monday arraignment, she reported not feeling well and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. She was treated for high blood pressure, then returned to her cell a few hours later.
Turner was found dead on July 27.
Turner's death came just days after Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the attorney general authority to investigate fatal police encounters in an effort to avoid perceived conflicts of interest between local district attorneys and police. Among those who asked Cuomo to empower the attorney general was the mother of Eric Garner, who died after a police chokehold. No officers were indicted in his death.
Relatives had disputed an autopsy finding that Turner died from an enlarged heart and chronic cocaine and morphine use. Neither an attorney for the family nor Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas immediately returned calls for comment on Schneiderman's announcement.
Cases involving deaths in police custody have "usually been shrouded in secrecy," Schneiderman said. But he said his investigators "left no rock unturned" in the Turner investigation, and he released a 91-page report that included a copy of Turner's autopsy report and video and still images from the jail's surveillance system.
After an autopsy found there was no indication that Turner was physically abused while in custody, investigators turned their focus to determining whether Turner received appropriate medical care in custody. They determined that the officers watching Turner did nothing criminal because "it was not readily apparent that (Turner's) death was imminent," said Alvin Bragg, chief of the attorney general's special investigations and prosecutions unit.
Investigators from the attorney general's office interviewed more than 40 witnesses and reviewed surveillance video that captured nearly the entire duration of Turner's confinement, authorities said. They also reviewed more than 1,700 pages of medical records as part of the probe.