EC Holding Center gains accreditation but why now?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Operations at the two jails run by the Erie County Sheriff’s Office received a rare stamp of approval by a state sheriff’s group, despite a number of controversies that raise questions about how the jails are run.

The accreditation was extended to the Sheriff’s Jail Management Division by the New York State Sheriff’s Association, and covers both the Holding Center downtown and the Alden Correctional Facility.

Only half of the county jails in New York have received this accreditation, according to Executive Director Peter Kehoe, who announced the achievement Tuesday afternoon, but things got a little testy when the Sheriff was asked about some unpleasant issues.

This latest feather in Sheriff Tim Howard’s cap matches two other accreditations the Sheriff’s Office has previously received for its Police Services and Civil Enforcement, and Kehoe said only 20 other sheriff’s offices in New York have all three accreditations.

“It tends to reduce the incidence of lawsuits and liability, reduce insurance costs because of fewer lawsuits and far fewer successful lawsuits.”

Yet, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office has incurred a number of lawsuits, including high profile litigation over India Cummings and Richard Metcalf, Jr., both of whom died while in custody.

Cummings, 27, died last year and her cause of death has not been determined. Metcalf’s cause of death was initially ruled a heart attack, but a later investigation by the state determined Metcalf’s death was homicide by asphyxiation.

Kehoe explained how Sheriff Howard still earned accreditation, “We don’t investigate the individual deaths, obviously, but we look at the procedures to make sure the procedures were followed, and the procedures for reporting deaths were followed, and cooperation with the state agencies that have the burden of investigating.”

Howard believes this kind of accreditation boosts the public’s confidence and trust in the Sheriff’s Office, “When public trust increases, cooperation increases. We have less occurrences where we are expending the resources to prove false allegations that they were, in fact, false.”

But when the Sheriff was asked about those controversies, such as accusations jail staff did not have appropriate training for handling Richard Metcalf’s “spit mask”, Howard declined to answer, citing a lawsuit filed by Metcalf’s family.

“I’m sure you are aware it is pending litigation, and in as much as it is pending litigation, and not wanting to impact a potential jury panel, I won’t comment about an incident with pending litigation,” and when a question was asked about India Cummings, the news conference abruptly ended.

Erie County’s top cop was also questioned about the timing of the accreditation, in light of Howard running for re-election in November. The Sheriff said county lawmakers only provided him with the resources–including additional staff and training–this year, and they started their push for accreditation in January.

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