New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Monday that his office will launch a formal investigation into the death of Raynette Turner, the mother of eight who died in a Mount Vernon, New York, jail cell while in police custody last week.
“My office's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit will investigate the death of Raynette Turner, consistent with Executive Order No. 147 and a conforming order to be issued by the Governor at my request," Schneiderman said in a statement.
It's the first such investigation since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last month issued an executive order appointing Schneiderman as special prosecutor in all cases where an unarmed civilian dies at the hands of police.
Turner, 42, was arrested on Saturday, July 25 after allegedly shoplifting some crab legs from a grocery store.
With no judges working on Sundays to arraign her in court on the misdemeanor charge, police officers opted to keep Turner in custody through the weekend. On Sunday night, the Mount Vernon Police Department told The Journal News, Turner said she was feeling ill and was taken to a hospital. Turner, who had a history of high blood pressure, was treated at the hospital and released.
At the courthouse Monday, Turner reportedly vomited while awaiting her arraignment in an upstairs holding area. She was then taken back to a cell downstairs.
Although courthouse officials are supposed to check on the holding cells every 15 minutes, The Journal News reported, no one saw Turner for another hour, when she was found dead in the cell around 2 p.m.
A spokesman for the Westchester County District Attorney's Office told The Huffington Post that Turner's initial autopsy was inconclusive. The medical examiner's office is awaiting results from toxicology tests.
Turner was one of five black women to have died in jail during a two-week span in July. Among them was Sandra Bland, whose death in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell drew national attention and touched off demonstrations by the Black Lives Matter movement in Texas and across the country.
As special prosecutor, Schneiderman's investigation will determine whether there should be any criminal charges in Turner's death.
Cuomo appointed Schneiderman as special prosecutor days before the one-year anniversary of Eric Garner's death. Garner, a black, unarmed 43-year-old father of six, died after being put in a prohibited chokehold during an arrest for selling untaxed cigarettes on July 17, 2014.
When a grand jury declined to indict the officer involved in Garner's death, massive protests erupted across the city and the country. Protesters argued that local district attorneys -- like the one that convened the grand jury investigation into Garner's death -- have a conflict of interest when prosecuting police, with whom they work closely on other cases.
Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, as well as several other black mothers who lost children in encounters with the New York City Police Department, lobbied Cuomo to create the special prosecutor's office.