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Family of Lindenhurst man who died in Suffolk police custody asks state AG for criminal investigation

Danielle McDonnell, widow of Daniel McDonnell is shown

Danielle McDonnell, widow of Daniel McDonnell is shown in a 2013 file photo. Photo Credit: Chris Ware

The family of a Lindenhurst man who died in May 2011 during a struggle with Suffolk police officers in a First Precinct cell has asked the state attorney general to launch a criminal investigation into the incident.

Danielle McDonnell, the widow of Daniel McDonnell, 40, last month sent a letter making the request to Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

The request came shortly after Schneiderman announced he would seek authorization from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to use executive power to appoint him to investigate and prosecute cases involving alleged police misconduct.

"I think somebody should be held accountable for what happened," Danielle McDonnell said.

Schneiderman's Dec. 8 letter to Cuomo came as demonstrators in New York City and elsewhere were protesting grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

"Seeing that ad and hearing him say nobody's above the law was encouraging to me," Danielle McDonnell said, referring to a TV spot that aired during Schneiderman's re-election campaign. "Maybe there's a chance. Maybe we can get some justice."

Schneiderman's office declined to comment.

McDonnell's family recently settled a lawsuit against the county for $2.2 million, court records show.

On May 6, 2011, McDonnell, 40, was in the First Precinct station house in custody on a contempt of court charge stemming from an alleged violation of a restraining order. He was to be arraigned the following day.

He was naked and unarmed in his cell when officers used a Taser and pinned him to a wet floor after he screamed for his bipolar medication, according to a report from the state Commission of Correction.

He had become unruly when he was unable to take his prescription medication, according to the report, which says that McDonnell's mother had delivered bottles of medication to the precinct, but officers did not administer the medicines because the labeling on the containers was unclear. He also was not transported to a hospital.

McDonnell, who was alone in the cell, had stuffed his toilet with clothes, flooding the cell with water, the report said. Officers entered the cell to subdue him and, in the struggle, McDonnell stopped breathing, according to the report.

His death was ruled a homicide by the Suffolk medical examiner's office, which determined that it was caused by the physical restraint and struggle, with his underlying conditions a contributing factor.

The state Commission of Correction, which investigates all in-custody deaths, recommended in June 2013 that the case be investigated by Schneiderman's office as a criminal matter.

The commission also faulted the Suffolk police homicide unit, county medical examiner's office and county district attorney's office for not thoroughly investigating the case.

The office of Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota called that report's allegation "baseless." Police and other officials have declined to comment on the commission's report.

"I write because of the current crisis of confidence in our state's criminal justice system," Schneiderman said in the letter to Cuomo. "In New York and across the country the promise of equal justice under law has been eroded by a series of tragedies involving the death of unarmed persons as a result of the use of force by law enforcement officers."

The letter continued: "All too often, the families of the victims and the members of their communities are left with the belief that our criminal justice system has both unjustly targeted and inexplicably failed them."

The letter, though, requests Cuomo's order authorize the attorney general to look into incidents occurring after the order is signed.

"There's no other objective here than to get people to live up to their oath," said Danielle McDonnell's attorney, Stephen Civardi of Freeport. "The McDonnell family is not looking for revenge. They're looking for justice."

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