Questions loom over A.G.'s investigation into death of Raynette Turner

Cyril Josh Barker | 8/4/2015, 11:22 a.m.
In his first case since being appointed special prosecutor just a few weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating ...
Eric Schneiderman

In his first case since being appointed special prosecutor just a few weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating the death of Raynette Turner who was found dead in a Mount Vernon jail.

At a press conference on Monday, Schneiderman said that his office would do a thorough investigation into Turner’s death. The Black, 42-year-old mother of eight was found dead in a holding cell last Monday. She was arrested for on shoplifting charges.

Turner was taken to a hospital when she said she was not feeling well and was vomiting. She was later taken back to the jail before she died. Officials are awaiting autopsy results.

Law enforcement officials in Mount Vernon said anyone in a holding cell is supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes, but at least an hour had passed between when Turner was seen alive and when she was found dead.

“My office's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit will investigate the death of Raynette Turner, consistent with Executive Order No. 147 and a conforming order to be issued by the Governor at my request,” said Schneiderman.

The investigation comes just weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Schneiderman as the special prosecutor who will investigate civilian deaths at the hands of police.

Turner's death has been compared to the death of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who died in a Texas jail that caused national outrage. Officials said Bland committed suicide by hanging herself with a trash bag. The death is being investigated as a possible murder and her family has called for an independent autopsy.

Mount Vernon community activist Samuel L. Rivers wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate saying that Schneiderman’s political connections to the City of Mount Vernon will make it impossible for the Turner family to seek justice.

Mayor Ernest D. Davis and Westchester County Democratic Chairman Reginald Lafayette are reportedly best friends and former business partners. Lafayette is also the Chairman of the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee, the organization that recently endorsed Mayor Davis to run for another term. Lafayette also sits on the New York State Democratic Committee, the same organization that endorsed Schneiderman to run for Attorney General.

“Having the United States Department of Justice as the lead investigative agency is the only way to ensure a full, transparent, and thorough investigation,” said Rivers.

Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake said he supports Schneiderman’s investigation. Schneiderman is a former state senator close the district Blake represents.

“When preventable deaths happen in police custody, the public becomes increasingly more wary of the justice system,” Blake said. “By making Attorney General Schneiderman the special prosecutor who investigates these types of tragedies and the A.G. taking action to seek justice, Governor Cuomo and A.G. Schneiderman are demonstrating their determination in eliminating the corruption of and restoring the public’s trust in our justice system.”