LOCKPORT, NY - The Erie County Medical Examiner's Office has ruled the death of an inmate in Niagara County last year a homicide. That information coming from the Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour, who held a press conference Friday to discuss the case and investigation.
The sheriff spent about 20 minutes to discuss the events before the inmate's death and how he does not agree with the key finding of the medical examiner.
"I am completely confident with the use of force and action that my corrections officers used," Voutour said.
He spoke about what happened when his officers had a struggle with 25-year-old DeJuan Hunt last August, inside his Niagara County Jail cell.
"So they did everything in their power to get him restrained," he said.
Hunt was being held on several charges of sex abuse, connected to an alleged incident at Niagara County Community College. He had been in jail for 17 days and was placed in a supervised jail cell, ordered to wear a restraint vest, because according to the sheriff, Hunt was making suicidal threats. Voutour says Hunt was able to get out of his vest.
"He immediately threw his vest at the first officer through the door, and started punching, kicking, spiting," Voutour said.
The sheriff says about 4 or 5 officers restrained Hunt, in part by using commonly used pressure techniques around Hunt's shins. He adds there's no video of the incident because Hunt was in a cell that didn't have a camera. Voutour says the autopsy shows Hunt died from a condition called rhabdomyolysis, which can be caused from a muscle injury, or other factors like alcohol or drugs.
"It is speculated that the use of force incident may've contributed to the rhabdomyolysis in a few specific areas of the body and those were the shins, according to the autopsy, there was bruising on Mr. Hunt's shins, also by self admission the inmate was hurting himself in that same area prior to the use of force incident, so its really hard to pinpoint if that caused it but it is known to be a cause because of the bruising," Voutour explained.
Hunt was found nine days later, unresponsive in his cell. Voutour says efforts to revive him did not work.
"It has been brought to my attention that the Erie County Medical Examiner will rule the death in this case as a homicide, the sheriff's office strongly disagrees with this terminology," Voutour said.
The Niagara County DA issued a statement saying the medical term homicide does not necessarily mean it was intentional or that a crime occurred, that will be up to that agency to determine. Also, investigating the case is the state committee of corrections. And as standard protocol, the sheriff's office continues its internal investigation. The Hunt family declined comment.