Erie County legislator requests investigation into inmate water intoxication death

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – An Erie County legislator is requesting an investigation into the death of an inmate from water intoxication that was first reported by News 4 Investigates, two months ago.

That inmate died last year. Erie County legislator April Baskin says that water intoxication death is “troubling” and wants the county Corrections Specialist Advisory Board to investigate the death. The board is supposed to provide oversight on county jails.

Last year, William Hager, died from consuming too much water while being held in the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden.

Legislator Baskin, who for years has been critical of the sheriff’s Jail Management Division, has sent a letter to the advisory board requesting that the board ask for a meeting with the Superintendent of the Jail Management Division to learn more about Hager’s death.

Baskin says she’s not prepared to publicly discuss the letter — telling News 4 that she’s waiting for a response from the advisory board.

A local activist group is reacting to Baskin’s request for an investigation.

“I think she’s been misled in terms of her expectations of the Correction Specialist Advisory Board, I think currently as they exist, it’s a sham they don’t do anything other than rubble stamp or whatever is that the superintendent and jail management says” said Baba Eng, program director of Prisoners Are People Too.

Baskin is also raising questions about an inmate death in 2021 — the letter states she received a state report about the death of an inmate by the name of James Ellis who died from stomach cancer, but “never received the proper care.”

“The medical at the holding center, the mental health at the holding center all of it comes under the sheriff’s control, the sheriff controls all of that and none of them are acting according to law they’re not doing their job,” Eng said.

In our interview with the Sheriff’s Office, officials declined to comment citing pending litigation, but spoke in general terms about the reforms the Sheriff’s Office has made such as launching a body cam program for corrections officers, and that the Sheriff’s Office continues to focus on mental health and rehab. ECSO now says that after a review no policies or standards of care were broken.

But it appears the county Corrections Board has been inactive for years. Their website says their last meeting was April 24 but there’s no minutes of any of their meetings. The next Corrections Advisory Board meeting is May 28.

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Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.

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