Court rules against group seeking disclosure of suicide attempts in Erie County jails

Feb 3, 2020

In late 2018, a group of four Erie County residents won a successful ruling in State Supreme Court requiring Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard to accurately report suicide attempts in Erie County jails to the state Commission of Correction.

The ruling, which gave the plaintiffs the right to return to court to ask that Howard be held in contempt if he failed to do so, was overturned last week by the State Supreme Court's appellate division.

The appellate court ruled the group had no legal standing to bring that case because they were not personally affected by the failure to report.

"Ignoring the established rule in New York that citizens have standing to ask a court to order a public official to follow the law where it's for the benefit of the community that it be followed, the [court] ignored that very well-established principle on which we won and simply ruled that we didnt have standing to sue because we didn't suffer any personal harm," said one of the plaintiffs, UB law professor emeritus Nan Haynes.

The group had won the right to go back to court and ask that Howard be held in contempt if he failed to properly report incidents.

"It followed years and years of reports of suicides and it followed the very bad publicity that the Erie County jails, more specially the Erie County Sheriff's Office received because of all of the deaths. It's important to know because the COC will then investigate and try to make changes, suggest changes, so that it doesn't happen again," Haynes said.

Haynes says the group will consider an appeal of that ruling to New York's highest court, the State Court of Appeals.