Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard had a lot to say about those calling for his resignation, and the number of inmate deaths at the Holding Center, all overshadowed by a federal report commending the office for its progress following a Department of Justice lawsuit against the county in 2009.
"This is like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval," Howard, (R) said.
Howard is pleased with a recent Department of Justice report recognizing the Erie County Holding Center for maintaining complete compliance in its inmate security and general medical divisions.
Both are under the direction of the sheriff, and no longer under a federal oversight order.
GOSHGARIAN: "How relieved are you to this point and why?"
"Those services that are done within the facility are at the highest standards as set by the federal government and contrary to what anybody else says we have met or exceeded that standard," said Howard.
The same cannot be said for the Center's Mental Health Division, found not in full compliance, under the direction of County Mental Health and its commissioners, appointed by County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
GOSHGARIAN: "How close do you work with those county leaders to improve that rating because as you say, that order is still in place."
"Shoulder to shoulder with them, within the facility. Despite the deaths of certain inmates, we have done our part to try to prevent that from happening," said Howard.
There have been 28 deaths at the Holding Center since Howard took office in 2005, about half of which he says are suicides.
The other includes inmates with a combination of varying unhealthy medical conditions, some which are terminal.
GOSHGARIAN: "Why are people dying in the Holding Center?"
"Some of these individuals have maybe finally stopped and realized how far astray they've gone. And don't see them ever being back in the community again. Some of them find themselves in positions, their family has said, ‘We've gone through this too many times. We're not bailing you out, we're not trying to help you anymore,’" said Howard.
Howard says those messages are often not reported to staff, and says he wishes there was more he could do to prevent inmates from dying.
"We're not a hospital. The person most responsible for a suicide is the person that commits the suicide," said Howard.
The latest was Robert Ingalsbe, who recently tried to commit suicide and later died at a hospital.
Howard says he didn't make the death public because Ingalsbe was not in the Center's custody at the time of his death, after a judge dropped his warrant and released the former inmate to his family.
GOSHGARIAN: "Was he properly supervised?"
"The inmate was properly supervised. There's no potential cover-up, there's no suggested cover-up," said Howard.
Howard says most inmates are mandated private time, unless classified otherwise.
"So that an inmate chooses to use those moments of privacy to commit suicide is not a failure on the part of the security staff of our building," said Howard.
Still, legislative leaders want answers and more transparency from Howard about certain inmates.
"It's not up to me. That comes under the County Department of Mental Health, not under the sheriff," said Howard.
GOSHGARIAN: "The Holding Center, as a whole, still falls squarely on you."
"But they continue to direct their questions back to the sheriff, when in fact, why aren't they directing their questions to the county executive?" said Howard.
A few lawmakers and protesters alike continue to show signs of frustration and are asking for Sheriff Howard to resign.
GOSHGARIAN: "Do you have any plans to step aside?"
"No, no. I have every intention of finishing my term," said Howard.
Spectrum News reached out to Mark Poloncarz last week, and he said at the time he had no comment.
One other note: the Erie County Legislature's Public Safety Committee has invited Howard and the Department of Mental Health to appear before the group to discuss these very issues next Thursday, October 31.
- Sen. Gallivan Talks Erie County Holding Center Deaths, Sheriff Tim Howard in 1-on-1
- Department of Justice Issues Compliance Report on Erie County Holding Center
- 4th Inmate in 4 Months Dies by Suicide at Erie County Holding Center
- Erie County Legislator Looking for Answers After Another Holding Center Inmate Death
- 2 Inmates Found Unresponsive in a Week at Erie County Holding Center