Sheriff says deputies acted properly in jailhouse death

May 29, 2018

The Erie County Sheriff's Office, New York State Commission on Corrections and US Department of Justice are investigating the death of an inmate, two days after he attempted suicide inside the Erie County Holding Center.

The inmate, identified as 33-year-old Michael Girard, used bedding to hang himself early Friday morning, the Sheriff's Office said. Deputies who found him unresponsive performed CPR and administered Narcan to re-establish a pulse. Girard was rushed to Erie County Medical Center, where he died on Sunday.

Credit WBFO file photo/Michael Mroziak

Sheriff Timothy Howard, during a Tuesday news conference, said Girard was checked multiple times during his incarceration by mental and medical health professionals. Deputies working the housing unit in which Girard was placed, Howard said, are required to pass the cells every 15 minutes.

"There is no question the deputy made all required passes through the housing unit," Howard said. "To say he wasn't there quickly enough did not suggest any fault on part of the staff. It's just a matter of saying that seconds might matter. If the deputy had been there seconds sooner, this might have had a different outcome. It's not the fault of the deputy."

Howard, who said Girard was arrested on a bench warrant, was asked about suggestions that an addiction or a drug-related health issue may have played a role in the inmate's death. The Sheriff would say little about Girard's condition.

"Based on the information he provided when he came in, he was classified and placed in veteran's housing," Howard said. "After being sent to veteran's housing, some additional information, some questions came to light as to whether that might have been part of his background. As a result of that, he was moved back to preclassification until those questions could be better answered."

Howard added that Narcan is used to reactivate body functions and is not used exclusively for drug overdoses.

He was asked if he had concerns about what state investgators might find. He called that talk premature.

"We do not always agree with their findings. They are not a tribunal themselves," said Howard. "They render opinions we don't always agree with but we'll wait and see. They have been advised of this incident."

The Sheriff added that his office reported the death to both state and federal authorities within the mandatory time period.