BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Attorneys for the family of Richard Metcalf, Jr. were hopeful and positive in February, when an Erie County Supreme Court Judge decided the investigation of the 35-year-old’s death should be reopened.
But they and family of the Depew man also expected a decision to be handed down sometime within the past 10 months. Instead, the matter rests in the hands of Cattaraugus County District Attorney Lori Rieman — without any sign of a decision being near.
Metcalf died November 30, 2012, after spending fewer than three days at ECMC on life support.
He was taken there unconscious and without a pulse after being severely beaten and strangled by county corrections officers at the Holding Center downtown, according to the New York State Commission on Corrections.
Metcalf’s behavior the night of his arrest was erratic and strange. He ran from his house unannounced in shorts and a t-shirt, despite the snow on the ground outside. He was found cowering in a walk-in cooler of a Depew business and there arrested by Depew police.
His behavior grew worse at the Holding Center.
Corrections officers admitted to investigators using force to subdue Metcalf. And they admitted to using a spit mask to prevent him from spitting blood at them as they worked to bring him under control. But they said the injuries shown to News 4 via photos taken at ECMC and released to the public — as well as those taken at the county morgue and not released — he caused himself.
Instead, the state said several corrections officers beat Metcalf relentlessly, and tied a spit mask far too tightly around his neck, which restricted his breathing. Medical staff later told the state they couldn’t even fit their fingers between Metcalf’s neck and the string used to tie the spit mask because it was so tightly tied. The state report said Metcalf was strangled to death, that the case should be reopened, and, that the corrections officers should be disciplined, perhaps criminally charged.
But the statute of limitations on the charge they’d mostly likely face — criminally negligent homicide — was allowed to expire by Rieman at midnight Thursday. Other lesser felonies expired after five years as well.
Multiple sources also tell News 4 the likelihood of a conviction on a second-degree murder charge would be far too low to even be considered. That’s because Rieman would need to prove the corrections officers intended to kill Metcalf, or that they were well aware their actions could have led to his death.
The expiration of the statute of limitations and Rieman’s delay were the focus of a series of emails obtained by News 4 from Metcalf’s uncle, Paul Metcalf, to Rieman.
Metcalf reached out to Rieman on Nov. 12, writing “(Y)ou are sworn to protect our citizens. I believe you want to. However, your actions in this are beyond reproach. I’m afraid your delay in sentencing (sic) coincides with elections and the statue of limitations, which is weeks away.”
After not receiving a response from Rieman for 10 days, Paul Metcalf writes again: “Have a happy holiday with your family. We won’t be able to and unfortunately you have done little to give us hope for justice.”
Reiman responds just seven minutes later: “Stop sending me your threatening emails. You have absolutely no clue what I am doing or have done with respect to your nephew’s case, as I have not released my results or conclusion yet.”
She finishes with an accusation: “Moreover, they are clearly veiled attempts to force me to act in a certain way.”
Paul Metcalf writes back: “I’m not sure what threats you are reading in my email. Actually I have gone out of my way to be objective and give you the benefit of the doubt. I guess you practice a much different law than what most citizens of this country expect.”
Rieman could not be reached for comment.
In the meantime, a civil case against Erie County, as well as the individual officers involved in the case, is moving forward. The next hearing in the civil case, which is being pursued on behalf of the Metcalf family by attorneys at Brown Chiari and attorney Tom Casey, is scheduled for early January. It’s expected the civil case will proceed regardless of any decision by Rieman.