ALBANY - State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday he will investigate the death of a Westchester woman held in police custody over a shoplifting charge as his first case as special prosecutor in police confrontations.
"My office's Special Investigations and Prosecutions Unit will investigate the death of Raynette Turner," Schneiderman said in a written statement.
Turner, 42, an African-American mother of eight, was taken into police custody on July 25 in Mount Vernon and accused of petit larceny from a food wholesale store. She was put into a holding cell to await arraignment.
Turner was later rushed to the hospital July 26 between 7:30 and 8 p.m. after complaining she didn't feel well and was treated for high blood pressure. She returned to the cell after 10 p.m. and was found dead about 2 p.m. on July 27.
"We're going to handle this investigation impartially, thoroughly and independently and will follow the facts wherever they lead," Schneiderman said at an unrelated news conference Monday announcing a settlement against retailers selling toy guns that resemble real guns.
"This relates to a crisis of public confidence," Schneiderman said of his role as special prosecutor in police confrontation cases that result in a civilian's death. "If the public doesn't have confidence, the system doesn't work."
"We're not going to be overly aggressive," the Democrat said about the politically volatile cases. "We will follow the facts."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in a July 8 executive order, appointed the attorney general to be the special prosecutor of cases in which civilians die in police confrontations or in police custody.
The action came after a series of deaths of mostly minority suspects in custody or in confrontations with police, including the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island in July 2014.
"It raises questions not just from her family, but from her neighbors, elected officials, community members and the media -- questions that deserve answers," Cuomo said. "This kind of situation is the reason that I signed Executive Order 147 last month, because the justice system must have the trust of our communities."