Originally published in Westchester Magazine, August 2015
By Julianne Cuba
Update (8/3): The District Attorney’s office has issued a statement regarding the investigation into the death of Raynette Turner.
“The Governor has expanded Executive Order 147 to include an investigation into any unlawful acts or omissions in connection with the death of Raynette Turner on July 27, 2015. We will work with the AG and his staff to ensure a smooth transition of this matter. From the outset the AG has been apprised of and fully briefed on the status of the investigation and going forward we will be available to assist the AG as appropriate,” the statement reads.
Raynette Turner, a Mount Vernon mother of eight, was found dead in her holding cell on Monday afternoon after she was arrested for shoplifting charges.
Turner, 42, who has been married to her husband, Herman, for 23 years, was arrested on Saturday afternoon after allegedly stealing crab legs from a restaurant in Mount Vernon.
Turner was kept in her holding cell for two days while waiting arraignment for the charges. The mother of eight’s death, and the police department’s decision not to release her for a misdemeanor, are currently being investigated locally and by the state.
“I can say at this time there are a number of law enforcement agencies investigating this matter, therefore we are unable to make more detailed statements that may compromise the investigation,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis in a statement. “We assure you that this investigation will be expeditious and thorough.”
Turner’s death comes at a time when police interaction with black individuals has become heavily scrutinized in the United States.
It was just last week that Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old from Chicago, was laid to rest after she, too, was found dead in her jail cell from an apparent suicide. Bland was pulled over in Texas for failing to signal a lane change. As caught on video, the incident quickly escalated and Bland was arrested after the officer threatened her with a Taser.
An autopsy confirmed Bland’s death as a suicide but that has only raised more questions and ignited an #IfIDieInPoliceCustody trend on Twitter—similar in significance and emotion to #BlackLivesMatter.
Like Bland’s arrest and death, and all of the others before her—Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice—Turner’s death is also sparking outrage on Twitter and social media.
Also trending on Twitter is the detail that Turner is the fifth woman this month—if not more—to have died in police custody in the United States.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this month as a special prosecutor to investigate civilians’ deaths by police officers, is taking on Turner’s death as his first case under the Governor’s executive order.
“We are assisting the Mount Vernon police in the investigation into the cause of death of Raynette Turner,” said Westchester District Attorney Lucian Chalfen. “The autopsy is not yet complete as we are awaiting the results of microbiology and toxicology tests. It takes a few weeks for those results to come back. Additionally the NYS Attorney General’s office has been apprised of our investigation from the outset and is fully in the loop as to where we stand,” he said.
Herman Turner, now left to care for eight children without their mother, told The Journal News, “I’m angry. Very angry. Somebody needs to pay. Somebody really needs to pay for this. I’m sorry, I’m not going to let this rest.”