Family Doubts Inmate Attempted Suicide Story

July 22, 2011 Updated Jul 22, 2011 at 11:25 PM EDT

By Kendra Eaglin

July 22, 2011 Updated Jul 22, 2011 at 11:25 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY
Fifty-two year old Alvin McKenzie was arrested Tuesday on burglary, trespassing, harassment and criminal contempt charges. McKenzie called his mother, Nellie Woods, shortly after he was arrested.

She says he sounded like he had been drinking. A couple of hours after that phone call, Nellie received a call from jail officials saying her son was being rushed to ECMC after being found in his cell with a shallow pulse. The family says they haven't received anymore information since then.

"Number one I would like to know what's happening with my son. We can't get a chance to see him. Nobody is telling nobody anything," said Nellie Woods.

McKenzie's brother went to the hospital Thursday, and was able to get some information from a nurse before being escorted out by a Buffalo Police Officer guarding the room.

"Nobody is giving us any answers my brother still laying there in a hospital bed, unconscious and we don't know what's going on with him. We don't know his condition as of yesterday. We don't know what's going on," said Ross Woods, the inmate's brother.

The Erie County Sheriff's department was not available for comment Friday, but the Erie County Executive says the problem was that McKenzie was placed in a cell by a nurse and not put under constant observation in a Detox Unit.

"You have to admit when something didn't go as perhaps it should have gone and from what I've seen of the intake forms I would not disagree that this person should have been put in a Detox Unit," said Chris Collins, Erie County Executive.

Inmates are sent to the Detox Unit if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It's part of the jail's new suicide prevention procedures, developed after a rash of suicides the past few years. For now, the family is focused on getting access to their loved one and information on the extent of his injuries.

"We don't know the results of the exams that they gave him, the MRI, or the CAT Scan, to determine whether or not he have any brain function," said Ross Woods.

The US Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the holding center back in 2009 for what it called life threatening conditions at the jail. It has since reached a settlement with the county regarding the issue of suicide prevention and mental health care.