Activists call for murder charges against Sheriff Tim Howard

BY AUSTIN HARIG

Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard has been the subject of controversy for many years. His administration of the Erie County Holding Center has come under scrutiny following a slew of highly suspect inmate deaths.  The prison has a suicide rate that is five times the national average for similar facilities.

For years, Howard and former County Executive Chris Collins refused to make upgrades to the facilities, which have long been called “human and constitutional rights violations” by attorneys and social justice activists.

There has been a sleuth of wrongful deaths coming from the Holding Center: from India Cummings, who died mysteriously as a result of her time in the Holding Center after suffering countless injuries; to Richard A. Metcalf, who died after being binded down on a stretcher and tied up to the point of asphyxiation.

Deputies said that Metcalf was struggling, but video later showed that he wasn’t, and that in all actuality the man couldn’t move if he wanted to his binds were so tight.

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Metcalf’s final moments, immobile and dying. Photo Credit: The Buffalo News

As if these wrongful deaths aren’t enough to warrant an investigation for the Holding Center, the US Department of Justice itself released a report in 2009 detailing the human rights abuses of the Holding Center headed by Sheriff Howard. According to the Erie County Prisoner Rights Coalition, a summary of some of the abuses that are discussed in this report are as follows:

– A pregnant inmate being booked into the Holding Center in August 2007 was struck in the face, thrown to the ground and kneed in the side, losing two teeth.

– Holding Center deputies take inmates on “elevator rides” in an isolated elevator without a security camera. Inside they are beaten.

– A correctional facility inmate died of a stroke in March 2007 after officers forced his head against a wall and personnel ignored his request for medical help.

Instances of such excessive force litter the pages of the Justice Department’s report. In addition, many instances of poor or altogether denied health care and unsanitary conditions led federal investigators to conclude that the jail poses “a pattern of serious harm to inmates, including death.”

“We conclude that the conditions of confinement violate the constitutional rights of inmates,” the report states.

Activists in Buffalo have had enough, however. If Sheriff Howard did not openly facilitate these murders and wrongful deaths, he would have taken action years ago to curb these abuses which have been pointed out by even the Federal Government.

Instead, Mr. Howard allows these abuses to continue, and allows men and women under his watch to die in a jail. When a supporter of Sheriff Howard was asked how they felt about the wrongful deaths at the Holding Center, they had this to say:

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Howard encouraged by supporter to allow inmates to die to lower their tax burden

So there you have part of a motive, Howard is encouraged by his constituency to allow such behavior to occur to lower tax burden.

And so, in Mr.Howard’s effort to save money in taxes, Mr. Howard seems to neglect the basic needs of inmates, subjecting them to what has been reported all across the country as one of the most dehumanizing and terrible jails there is, and appears to tacitly allow inmates to die at the hands of abusive officers and do nothing about it.

To add to this, Mr. Howard proudly spoke at a Spirit of America Rally on April 1st in Niagara Square, which many local politicians and figures, including county legislator Betty Jean Grant, described as nothing short of a “Klan Style Rally.”

“I do not believe they should enjoy a quality of life superior to that of working families and retirees.”

– Tim Howard

With all of these stars lining up, it is time to consider having Sheriff Tim Howard face charges of murder for those people who he is allowing to die in the Holding Center through his own negligence. Charges of murder, official misconduct, murder by accessory, and hate crimes come into mind.

Perhaps it’s time Sheriff Tim Howard answer for the ragtag establishment he is the head of and all of the crimes that are perpetrated in it. Only then will those who have been wrongfully killed while in the custody of Mr. Howard have real justice.

Perhaps it’s time Mr. Howard experiences the Holding Center himself?

TimHoward
Photo Credit:  DailyPublic.com

The case of India Cummings

India Cummings, in the throes of mental illness, clearly incapacitated and incapable of taking care of herself, was put in custody at the Erie County Holding Center on February 1st, 2016 after a series of irrational actions. She had originally called the police for help. 

Despite frantic efforts by family members and others to have her transferred to a hospital where she can be stabilized, she was stashed away mysteriously in the Holding Center for a two and a half week period. On February 17, 2016, Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard states a “medical event happened,” and India was transported to Buffalo General Hospital.

10329274_1053482491375269_4639661444975309457_nUpon her admission, she had a broken arm, broken ribs, severe dehydration, a blood clot in her leg that would have required the amputation of her leg, and her kidneys were failing. She was brain dead and in cardiac arrest. Sheriff Howard fails to mention what conceivable medical event occurred that could have caused all those conditions simultaneously.

On February 21, 2016, Ms. Cummings remaining organs crashed, and she died.

“Howard and Acting Erie County District Attorney Mike Flaherty have done exactly what you would expect them to do when a young Black girl dies in such a tragic and suspicious manner in county care… absolutely nothing,” Matt Albert, an attorney for Cummings’ family, wrote in an editorial at the time.

“India was the victim of a homicide. When a clearly incapacitated individual is put into County custody, it is the County’s duty to care for her, as she cannot care for herself. Here, best case scenario, under County supervision, she was allowed to wither away and die in a two and a half week period, having nothing in her system upon her admission to the hospital. That conduct constitutes criminally negligent homicide,” Albert explains.

Worst case scenario, she was beaten until there was nothing left and deprived of necessary food and water. That would be intentional or depraved indifference murder.

Howard publicly stated that he is “more than satisfied” as to the care India received.

The case of Richard Metcalf

The family of 35-year-old Richard Metcalf died after being held briefly at the Erie County Holding Center. His family has 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.

metcalf-before-and-after

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 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.

Tony Farina contributed to this report. 

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2 comments

  1. I was always aware of the high probability that Sheriff Howard lives among know-it-all neighbors who tell him how they would ‘come down hard’ on the inmates, etc., and he takes their ignorant advice and compliments to heart instead of performing his duties according to the guidelines given to him.

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  2. Great article, Austin! I can see your heart in this work. Keep it up. I just do not know how Sheriff Howard can claim any measure of moral authority with all the wreckage coming from his jail management division. By shining the bright light of media exposure on these cynical people with this article, and hopefully even more, you are showing a fearlessness that should be admired.

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