DA closes probe into inmate’s death; family protests

The Associated Press
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HARRISBURG – A Pennsylvania prosecutor has closed a criminal investigation into the death of a 21-year-old prison inmate following a coroner’s conclusion that the death was due to natural causes, even as the inmate’s relatives call for an independent probe.

Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo said Friday he was closing the criminal investigation “as there is no evidence of criminal conduct on the part of any persons at the prison in connection with the death of Ty’rique Riley.”

“We continue to express our condolences to the entire Riley family for the loss they have suffered,” he said.

Authorities have said that Ty’rique Riley, jailed after an altercation with his father, struggled with guards at Dauphin County Prison and became unresponsive after he was placed in a restraint chair, a device used to immobilize inmates at risk of hurting themselves or others. He was taken to a hospital June 26 and died there July 1.

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The county coroner said Thursday that Riley had swelling in his brain and blood vessels, clots in his lungs and a failing kidney, ailments that likely progressed over days or weeks. Coroner Graham Hetrick said the cause of the fatal inflammation remains unknown, but that it could have been a virus, cocaine or both, adding that cocaine was found in Riley’s system. He said bruises found on his body had nothing to do with his death, and “we did not see any trauma on his body that would have caused him to die.”

Chardo’s announcement included photos he said were intended to counter erroneous reports that Riley had missing teeth, broken ribs and a footprint on his back. He said surveillance video shows no unlawful use of force.

“From the time of his arrest for aggravated assault until he required hospitalization, Mr. Riley displayed conduct that would have easily been mistaken for a mental health problem,” Chardo said. “In fact, based upon the autopsy results, his conduct was the result of a medical condition that preceded his commitment to the Dauphin County Prison.”

Hetrick said the inflammation in Riley’s brain would have caused confusion and strange behavior, because with the brain swelling “he was seeing reality in a different way than you and I would see it.” He said that would explain why Riley, who had no history of mental illness, reportedly behaved uncooperatively during and after his arrest, and the illness likely would have caused his death even if he had not been incarcerated.

Family attorney Riley Ross III said the photos made public didn’t show the injuries to Riley’s arms and wrists, which he said were what concerned his clients, PennLive.com reported. He also questioned why Riley did not undergo a medical evaluation given his mental state when police and emergency medical services responded to the residence. Ross said the family doesn’t believe the investigation should be closed and wants an independent probe.

“We will continue to push for answers,” Ross said. “We will continue to seek justice for Ty’Rique and his family. This is not the end.”