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Lackawanna man on life support, family blames police

Posted at 3:05 PM, Aug 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-24 08:10:13-04

The family of Stephen Sinwell is now keeping a bedside vigil hoping the 30-year-old Lackawanna man will come out of a coma after attempting suicide while in police custody.

Family members tell 7 Eyewitness News reporter Ed Reilly that the system failed their son because instead of being taken for evaluation after making suicidal comments, Stephen Sinwell was taken into custody and charged with criminal possession of cocaine.

The incident started when Sinwell's ex-girlfriend called police for a welfare check during the early morning hours of August 15, 2016.  Officers found Sinwell in a car with a suspected amount of cocaine.   He was taken to Lackawanna Police Headquarters and placed in a special holding cell with a telephone to await a morning arraignment.

Shortly before 6 a.m., officers found that Sinwell had tried to kill himself using the jail cell telephone cord.  Sinwell was taken to ECMC in critical condition where he remains on life support.

"We are being told that we are going to have to make some difficult decisions that no family should have to make  in the coming week," said Sinwell's parents, Louis and Diana Sinwell.

The couple, who drove up from Bethlehem, P.A., say they believe police should have taken their son immediately to the hospital because he was suicidal.

However, Lackawanna Police say Sinwell was given two suicide prevention screenings and it was determined that he did not meet the requirements to be evaluated in a hospital.  According to police sources, Sinwell was telling officers that he was only trying to get his ex-girlfriend's attention.

Police Chief James Michel told Ed Reilly off-camera that his officers checked on Sinwell several times before his suicide attempt was discovered.  The chief explained that his department is one of several departments that have telephones in some jail cells because it is believed they can help calm despondent people in custody.

A further investigation will be conducted by the New York State Commission of Correction.

Stephen Sinwell's family members are now speaking out because they believe procedures need to change before another family goes through the same thing.

A GoFundMe account has been established to help raise money for either Stephen Sinwell's recovery or his funeral expense, said his sister Valerie Sinwell.

Ed Reilly talked with upset family members and police.  Watch his report to hear more.