Who Is Raynette Turner, & Why Is The New York Attorney General Investigating Her Death?

A cell is seen on September 10, 2014 at the Sante prison in Paris. The only jail in Paris, inaugurated in 1867, closed for renovations on July 21 and is to reopen in 2019 with its prisoners transferred to other facilities. The Sante is known for its VIP section, where various well-known figures have done time. AFP PHOTO/JOEL SAGET (Photo credit should read JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Source: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Less than a month after Sandra Bland's death, another black woman unexpectedly died in her jail cell and gained the attention of the New York officials. So who is Raynette Turner and why is New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigating her death? The 42-year-old mother of eight was awaiting an arraignment for stealing a package of crab legs from a wholesale food store when she was found dead on July 27 in her jail cell in Mount Vernon, a small town that borders the northern edge of New York City.

The previous day, Turner was taken to the hospital for vomiting, and she was treated for high blood pressure before being returned to her cell. The next afternoon, she was found dead. Her cause of death has yet to be determined, and toxicology tests have not concluded. Because of all the unanswered questions about how she died, Schneiderman's office launched an investigation, acting under an executive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month that gives the attorney general jurisdiction to "investigate and prosecute matters relating to the deaths of civilians caused by law enforcement officers."

"Ms. Turner's death is a tragedy for her loved ones, and it raises questions not just from her family, but from her neighbors, elected officials, community members and the media — questions that deserve answers," Cuomo's official statement 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."

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Raynette had eight children, ranging in age from 8 to 21. Raynette's husband, Herman Turner, told the New York Daily News that his wife suffered from high blood pressure and depression, but she had them under control. There was "nothing physical wrong with my wife, whatsoever," Herman said. "She was healthy, very healthy. It's a big shock that she died in jail." Herman wasn't informed of her death until the following day and sat in the courtroom waiting for her arraignment July 27. He told the Daily News that he was told her arraignment was postponed because she wasn't feeling well. "I'm sitting in the courthouse and my wife is downstairs dead," Herman said. "I feel hurt, very angry."

Herman's lawyer, Osvaldo Gonzalez, was glad Schneiderman decided to investigate, telling the Daily News:

It's a better situation for everybody to have an independent person examine these types of cases where there can be a tendency to smooth it over because everyone here works with everybody else. This is a situation where you need an objective and independent view of the facts.

Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis said in a statement the city would be working closely with Schneiderman. "We will continue to make every effort to keep the dialogue open surrounding Mrs. Turner's death," Davis said. Schneiderman's investigation will determine whether there should be any criminal charges for Turner's death.

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