New York uses executive order to investigate woman’s jail cell death

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, with New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, with New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman.

(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)
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A New York woman’s mysterious death in jail last week will be investigated by the state attorney general’s office, marking the first use of an executive order expanding independent oversight of deaths involving police, officials said Monday.

Raynette Turner, 42, a mother of eight, was found dead in her cell at Mount Vernon police headquarters July 27. She had been arrested July 25 on suspicion of misdemeanor shoplifting in the New York City suburb, according to local news reports.

A day after her arrest, Turner complained of an unknown illness and was taken to a hospital for treatment before being returned to custody, police have said. She was set for a court appearance on the day she died.


“Today, the attorney general informed my office that he intends to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute any unlawful acts arising from the death of Raynette Turner, who died last week while in the custody of the Mount Vernon Police Department,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement Monday.

“Ms. Turner’s death is a tragedy for her loved ones, and it raises questions not just from her family, but from her neighbors, elected officials, community members and the media — questions that deserve answers,” Cuomo said.

In the wake of national outrage driven in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, Cuomo signed an executive order last month appointing the state attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, as special prosecutor in cases involving the deaths of unarmed civilians at the hands of police.

Turner’s death came less than three weeks after another African American woman died in police custody. Sandra Bland was found hanged in her Texas cell, spurring activists to ask why she was jailed for several days after being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, a minor traffic infraction. (The officer who stopped Bland accused her of assaulting him.)

Similar questions have arisen about Turner’s death. She was awaiting her first court appearance July 27 when she was found unresponsive in her cell, officials have said.

“I want somebody to answer my questions,” Turner’s husband, Herman Turner, told WPIX-TV last week. “What happened to my wife?”


Receptionists at the Mount Vernon Police Department said Monday that no one was available to comment.

“She was going to be brought up to arraignment at 2 p.m. [on July 27], and she was found to be non-responsive, and she had passed away,” Mount Vernon Police Deputy Commissioner Richard Burke told WPIX-TV last week. “It actually appeared like she died in her sleep.”

The cause of Turner’s death is under investigation. An employee at the Westchester Medical Examiner’s Office said officials had performed an autopsy, but the worker could not release further information.

Police told the Journal News that Turner was last seen alive between noon and 1 p.m. on July 27. One official told the newspaper during a tour of the facility Friday that guards were supposed to walk by inmates’ cells every 15 minutes.

Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest D. Davis promised a “comprehensive” and “thorough” investigation. In a statement Monday, Davis said, “Mrs. Turner’s funeral will be later this week and we ask that there be a continued [show of] respect as we get through this very difficult time.”

The mayor pledged to try “to keep the dialogue open.”

Follow @MattDPearce for national news.



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