Westchester Town Focusing on Children of Mom Who Died in Police Custody: Mayor

The mayor of the Westchester town where a mother of eight died in police custody while awaiting arraignment on shoplifting charges said Wednesday the town needs to focus on her children amid questions about officers' handling of the woman's case.

Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis called Raynette Turner a "kind and tender and gentle person" at a news briefing Wednesday announcing that funeral services for the 42-year-old would be held Friday.

"We must continue to focus on the needs of Turner's eight children," he said, adding that the town is working with a local church to help meet their needs.

But Davis and city officials refused to answer other questions about Turner's death on July 27, including whether any officer had been placed on leave or why the department felt the woman should be held for two days on a minor charge. The mayor and other city officials deferred questions from reporters, saying "we're not in the rumor-making business."

The news conference comes two days after the the Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that his office would open an investigation into Turner's death on July 27, two days, two days after being arrested on charges she stole a package of crab legs from a wholesale food store. Davis has said that the town and police department will cooperate with Schneiderman's inquiry.

Schneiderman is acting for the first time under an order issued by Gov. Cuomo last month giving the attorney general authority in cases where people die in encounters with police. Cuomo said he hoped to do away with perceived conflicts of interest between local district attorneys and police.

Among those who asked Cuomo to empower the attorney general was the mother of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after a videotaped police chokehold. No officers were indicted in his death.

The death of a jailed woman in Texas last month, after a confrontation with a police officer during a traffic stop, has drawn national attention. Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell on July 13. Officials say she used a plastic bag to hang herself, a finding her family has questioned.

A lawyer for Turner's husband told NBC 4 New York that his client is happy Schneiderman exercised his newly granted powers for the case.

"Mr. Turner is in shock," he said. "He's happy anyone other than Mount Vernon is investigating."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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