A Westchester County woman and mother of 8 was found dead in her holding cell in Mount Vernon, New York on Monday, two days after being arrested for allegedly shoplifting a box of crab legs from a wholesale food market. Her family was not informed of her death until Tuesday. Autopsy results are pending, and the State Attorney General's Office is considering launching a full investigation into her cause of death.
Raynette Turner, 42, was arrested shortly after 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, a few blocks from Restaurant Depot in Mount Vernon, on allegations that she had shoplifted a box of crab legs. The Post reports that Turner had three recent shoplifting arrests on her record, but Herman Turner, Turner's husband of 23 years, told the Journal News that this was "nothing but a bald-faced lie," adding that his wife had been on probation for five years and had not been arrested in that time.
Turner, who had a medical history of high blood pressure, had undergone weight-loss surgery a year prior to her arrest. Her children range in age from 8 to 21.
Turner was placed in a holding cell at police headquarters in anticipation of her arraignment on Monday. On Sunday night, she was taken to Montefiore Mount Vernon Hospital, having told officers that she didn't feel well. According to the Journal News, she was treated for high blood pressure, and returned to her cell around 10:00 p.m.
Turner was the only person being held at Mount Vernon's police headquarters between Saturday and Monday. Her cell block had video surveillance, and was checked on the hour. NBC reports that Turner was seen sitting up and awake between 12:00 and 1:00 p.m. on Monday, but was found dead at 2:00 p.m., when officers came to escort her to her arraignment. Authorities told NBC that "the last note on Turner indicated she was laying on her side and appeared to be sleeping."
Meanwhile, Turner's husband was waiting upstairs in the courtroom. From the Journal News:
Herman Turner went to City Court on Monday to await his wife's arraignment and was told there she would likely be released without bail, said [Osvaldo] Gonzalez, his attorney. He then was told she had been complaining that she was not feeling well, which he believed had delayed her arraignment.
Turner said he sat in court all day Monday until about 4 p.m. waiting for his wife's arraignment.
"No one said anything to me about my wife was downstairs, dead," he said. "They just let me sit in the courtroom all day long, waiting for her to come and be seen by the judge."
Turner's attorney says his client only learned of his wife's death on Tuesday morning when two detectives came to his door.
The Mount Vernon Police Department denies any misconduct. "It's a tragedy when anyone dies in police custody," Mount Vernon Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Burke told the Journal News. "There is no foul play suspected." Burke emphasized that Turner had a history of weight problems and high blood pressure.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent his Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit to Mount Vernon after Turner's death was announced on Tuesday. According to an order issued by Governor Cuomo last month, Schneiderman's office can investigate the deaths of civilians in police custody. However, as of this writing, it has not been determined if the Attorney General's Office will launch a full investigation.
Turner's death comes just over two weeks after the death of Sandra Bland in Texas—also in a holding cell, and also while being held before her arraignment for a minor violation (in her case, failing to signal while switching lanes).
An autopsy was reportedly conducted yesterday, and results are still pending.
In an interview Tuesday evening Turner's husband told the Journal News, "Sounds like a cover-up to me. If they [Mount Vernon police] did their job she would still be alive... I want somebody's head to roll on this. I am not going to rest until I get some type of justice for my wife. That's the bottom line."
UPDATE: Partial results are in from Turner's autopsy, but cause of death is still undetermined, pending toxicology and microbiology test results. "We're awaiting toxicology and microbiology which could take a number of weeks," Westchester County DA Spokesman Lucian Chalfen told the News. "Until those results come in, the (autopsy) report is incomplete."
Turner's husband told the Journal News this afternoon that he plans to look into an independent autopsy.