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Calls for jail oversight

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Calls for jail oversight
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There are new calls for Onondaga County lawmakers to step in and impose new oversight on the county's Justice Center jail. YNN's Bill Carey says despite the recent deaths of two inmates, legislators have been unwilling to take any steps toward new policies and procedures.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It was August of 2010. Raul Pinet, 31, had been taken into custody after wandering Shonnard Street, apparently high on drugs.

He was brought to the Onondaga County Justice Center. Soon after, he was dead.

Deputies said he had died of complications from drug abuse. But, the State Commission on Corrections said he suffocated while being held down by deputies. They ruled the death a homicide.

A county grand jury reviewed the case, but leveled no charges.

There have been ongoing protests by community groups saying changes must be made at the Justice Center. Changes prompted by the Pinet case and the death of Chuniece Patterson, who died from a lack of medical treatment after a pregnancy complication.

The activists who've protested the deaths are now calling on lawmakers to act.

“Since the Sheriff's Department seems unable or unwilling to do anything but deflect blame, and we have serious questions about the adequacy of the DA's presentation to the Grand Jury, we look to this body,” said Barrie Gewanter, CNY Civil Liberties Union.

Despite the ongoing debate over the handling of inmates here at the Justice Center, there's no indication that Onondaga County lawmakers have taken any steps to institute any type of oversight of the jail operation.

“Frankly, we have not had anybody come forward and discuss this with us, so we stand ready to meet with whoever's interested,” said Kevin Holmquist, (R) Onondaga County Legislator.

Speakers warned the lawmakers that, without new oversight and new procedures, more deaths are likely in the future.

“So why wait? Why wait for another death? Why wait for another lawsuit? Why not take action now?” said Ruth Beltran, League of United Latin American Citizens.

“At every level, at every opportunity, our government officials have failed to hold anyone accountable for what happened or to address the very real potential that these tragedies could be repeated,” said Gewanter.

“Government doesn't always work real fast, but we're working very hard to improve the situation over there,” said Holmquist.

There have been no new hearings scheduled on the death cases.

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