State report says Erie County sheriff's deputies caused 2012 inmate death

Sheriff's Office disputes findings
Posted at 3:23 PM, Oct 18, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-18 23:21:54-04

A new state report released Tuesday puts blame on the Erie County Sheriff's Office in the 2012 death of an inmate in the county jail.

Richard Metcalf Jr., 35, died on Nov. 30, 2012 at the Erie County Holding Center. 

The report states he was "hospitalized after a prolonged use of force and an improper restraint" by Sheriff's deputies two days earlier. 

Erie County's top medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, with the cause as "acute and subacute myocardial infarction," more commonly known as a heart attack.

But the Medical Review Board of the New York State Correction Commission states that restraint techniques used by deputies caused the death. 

It cited video footage of the restraint, pictures of a "spit mask" that was tied around Metcalf's neck, a pillowcase that was placed over his head, blood in his airway and the transport of Metcalf in a prone position as "classic elements of a death that was caused directly by traumatic asphyxia with compression of the torso and neck."

Had Metcalf received "appropriate crisis level mental health care" and had he "been the subject of a properly supervised use of physical force, his death could have been prevented," the report states.

Sheriff's spokesman Scott Zylka in a prepared statement said the Sheriff's office "reviewed the report and disputes many of its purported findings. In preparing the report, we believe the [state corrections commission] mischaracterized and misinterpreted critical evidence, and the failure to accurately take account of that evidence led to flawed conclusions.  The Erie County Sheriff’s Office looks forward to defending itself and the actions of its deputies in court."

The Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty, Jr. said:

“I offer my sympathies to the family of Richard Metcalf.  I have received the report from the NYS Commission of Correction, and I am in the process of discussing with my colleagues our next course of action.  It would be inappropriate for me to offer any further comment at this time.”