DOWNTOWN BUFFALO — Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard today stood by the county's strategy with regard to a federal lawsuit that seeks better conditions in the Holding Center and the county Correctional Facility in Alden even as the third apparent suicide in the county's busy jail in the last four months was reported Wednesday.
"The county's strategy is simply to say that while we do not resist the federal government making an inquiry into our jail that they should be accompanied while in our building by members of our staff and or the county attorney's staff," Howard said at a 3 p.m. news conference at Sheriff's headquarters.
But the Rev. Eugene Pierce, deputy superintendent of the county Correctional Facility from 1984 to 1997 and member of a local prisoner-support group, said the county's presence during any federal visit to investigate alleged abuses at the jail would make it hard for officials to uncover the truth.
"The presence of county officials constitutes duress," Pierce said late today. "It will cause inmates to be intimidated and fearful."
Jeremy Kiekbush, 29, of Amherst, was found hanging from a bedsheet Wednesday. Police said Kiekbush was arrested after a high-speed chase and domestic dispute. Deputies found baggies of heroin in his car.
Because the last three suicides at the Holding Center involved heroin, Howard said today the county has instituted a new protocol for admitting heroin-addicted individuals — including 24/7 watch of high-risk inmates.
"I will be the first to acknowledge this may be a knee-jerk reaction but it's the only action that we could possibly take at this point," Howard said.
Pierce said the county should have a licensed physician on staff at all hours to treat any incoming inmate with substance abuse problems.
Howard appeared today at the news conference with Undersheriff Richard Donovan, Jail Management superintendent (acting) Robert Koch Jr. and Deputy Rick Carr, chief steward for the teamsters union, in a rare public showing of the county's top law enforcement.
Howard said two technical assistants from the NYS Commission of Correction were in the county's facility reviewing its suicide-prevention and booking policies. Every inmate death is reviewed by the state commission, he said.
"What's maybe a little unique here is that it will be simultaneously assumed that while they have staff members here looking at this most recent suicide that they will also be looking at the recommendations that Superintendent Koch is making for some changes such as double-bunking, which we haven't been allowed to do, Howard said."
Hear the full press conference:
And here is Howard talking about the county's strategy:
— Joseph Popiolkowski