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New Jersey Takes On Vestige Of Three-Fifths Clause: Prison Gerrymandering

New Jersey Takes On Vestige Of Three-Fifths Clause: Prison Gerrymandering


“Every Monday new inmates come in and they’re processed,” says a white corrections officer early in the documentary, “The Farm.” “We’re all guaranteed a job,” she adds, looking at the camera with a smirk. “We have good job security.” She nods as the camera pans back to two rows of shackled men, nearly all of them Black, arriving at Angola prison––formally known as Louisiana State Penitentiary––to begin their sentences, most of them for life. Angola is the notorious maximum-security prison, which, when it was a slave plantation, was named for the country in Africa where many of its slaves were captured. The clear implication is that things haven’t changed all too much since 1865: White people are still exploiting Black bodies, squeezing every dollar they can from them.

This is clear in a range of contexts, many of them in the criminal system. Most obviously, it is apparent in exploitative prison labor and exorbitant fees for basic resources in prisons, but also the fines and fees extorted from people who are shuffled through every level of the criminal system, including the lowest ones. In more subtle ways, too, the bodies of the vulnerable people we incarcerate are used to enrich white people. Another example is prison gerrymandering, which refers to the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the towns where they are confined, not where they are from and where they will return. According to the Prison Policy Institute, this “creates significant problems for democracy” and “leads to a dramatic distortion of representation at local and state levels, and creates an inaccurate picture of community populations for research and planning purposes.”

It is a policy that has become out of date since it was implemented for the 1790 census. “What has changed is just the massive scale of incarceration in the U.S. What worked for the country in 1790 just doesn’t work anymore in terms of data methodology,” Aleks Kajstura, legal director of the Prison Policy Initiative, told NPR. “Even up until the 1970s, the incarcerated population was low enough that it did not impact redistricting when people were counted in the wrong place.” Kajstura noted that many prisoners are released or moved to another facility after they are counted for the census, so that the “facility that they happen to be incarcerated on Census Day is in no way reflective of the reality of where they actually even live and sleep most of the time even by the Census Bureau’s own guidelines.”

What prison gerrymandering does is further empower rural, white communities, while taking power from diverse, urban ones. The comparison to the infamous three-fifths clause of the Constitution is obvious. During slavery, Southern states bolstered their census numbers—and, consequently, their representation in Congress—using the three-fifths clause, which allowed them to count disenfranchised slaves as three-fifths of a person each. The three-fifths clause virtually ensured that slaves would be represented by pro-slavery representatives in Congress, the way prison gerrymandering ensures that prisoners contribute to the representation of pro-carceral towns that profit off their confinement. It is what one writer has called the “five-fifths clause.”

“A recent study about Pennsylvania’s state legislative districts by Villanova University associate professors highlights the impact this process can have on the political voice of incarcerated people’s home communities,” NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang reported last month. The study “found a ‘substantial likelihood’ that Philadelphia would gain an additional majority-minority district for Pennsylvania’s state House if prisoners incarcerated in the state were counted as residents of their last known addresses.” Instead, according to the study’s authors, Brianna Remster and Rory Kramer, “the incarcerated are not only missing from their communities, they are also advantaging other communities.” The votes of the people in the white, rural prison communities simply have more power than those in the cities where many prisoners come from and will return.

This is a nakedly partisan issue. In 2015, when the Census Bureau was collecting public comments about its rules for counting people in prisons, Thomas Hofeller, the Republican redistricting strategist whose daughter made his files public after his death in 2018—warned against adjusting prisoners’ numbers. “This change is being encouraged by Democratic or Liberal organizations and could involve the Census Bureau in yet another political conflict,” Hofeller wrote. The following year, when the bureau received another round of public comments, over 99 percent of the close to 78,000 comments collected in 2016 “suggested that prisoners should be counted at their home or pre-incarceration address,” according to the bureau. But it has no plans to change its policy for the 2020 count.

“Counting prisoners anywhere other than the facility would be less consistent with the concept of usual residence, since the majority of people in prisons live and sleep most of the time at the prison,” the bureau announced in 2018. But, as the NAACP argued in a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut over prison gerrymandering, by inflating the voting strength of predominantly white districts, it violates the 14th Amendment’s “one person, one vote” principle. And as Daniel Nichanian noted last year in The Appeal: Political Report, “The skew is compounded by the fact that incarcerated people are barred from voting in all but two states, silenced even as their presence bolsters the representation of the areas they are displaced to.”

Since the bureau won’t change its policy, civil rights groups and other advocates have had to pressure states one by one to change how they redraw state and local voting districts by advancing legislation and fighting in court. Last May, Nevada and Washington joined California, Delaware, Maryland, and New York in passing laws that require relocating prisoners’ numbers from their place of incarceration to their last known home addresses for redistricting.

Last week, New Jersey lawmakers also voted to ban prison gerrymandering. Proponents of the new law cited a report from the Sentencing Project that found that New Jersey had the worst Black-white disparity among its incarcerated population. “Since New Jersey has the worst racial disparities in incarceration rates in the country, upholding prison-based gerrymandering essentially strips our communities of color of their full voting strength,” said Helen Kioukis, program associate with the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

Wang reports from Waupun, a rural, largely white town about an hour and a half drive northwest of Milwaukee, where approximately 1 in 4 people are incarcerated. The 3,000 people imprisoned in Waupun cannot vote but make up the majorities in two of the town’s voting districts represented by alderpeople on the town’s common council. The alderpeople, who are supposed to rely on “input from residents” to “ensure a citizen-centered process,” said that they have never visited the prisons. “There’s no reason to communicate on property I don’t have access to,” said Alderperson Ryan Mielke, who was re-elected last year with 43 votes. About 61 percent of his constituents are incarcerated and cannot vote. But a spokesperson for Wisconsin Department of Corrections told NPR that elected officials are welcome to visit the facilities. “We have state senators and representatives come through a number of our institutions pretty regularly.”

The most productive solution would be to allow prisoners and formerly incarcerated people to vote, but until that happens, the least we can do is stop giving their voting power to the towns that profit from their imprisonment. One person serving time in Waupun, Robert Alexander––who had been living in Milwaukee before his incarceration––said he didn’t know who was supposed to represent him. “There’s no way that he can say what we feel unless he decides to come in and talk to us,” he said. “You don’t feel like a resident of anything,” he added. “It’s almost like your body being used.”

‘Weird News,’ ‘Dumb Criminals’ and the Media’s Monetization of Human Misery

There’s a cynical local-to-national news pipeline designed to mock the powerless under the guise of “odd” news stories.

Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown. Photo from Getty Images.

‘Weird News,’ ‘Dumb Criminals’ and the Media’s Monetization of Human Misery

There’s a cynical local-to-national news pipeline designed to mock the powerless under the guise of “odd” news stories.


The public’s perception of crime is often significantly out of alignment with the reality. This is caused, in part, by frequently sensationalist, decontextualized media coverage. Media Frame seeks to critique journalism on issues of policing and prisons, challenge the standard media formulas for crime coverage, and push media to radically rethink how they inform the public on matters of public safety.


Over the past few weeks, there have been dozens of local and national news stories about the case of a Georgia man who allegedly broke into a Taco Bell just past midnight on Christmas morning to eat and seek shelter from a chilly night on the floor of the fast-food restaurant.

The man, reportedly a former employee, also is accused of stealing a “laptop and tablet,” but this wasn’t the focus of these stories. The hook –– and what made this otherwise obscure instance of petty crime national news –– was that breaking into a Taco Bell to eat and sleep is somehow seen as inherently amusing. Outlets such as The New York Post, New York Daily News, and ABC News ran the story, the latter showing the surveillance video of the man with a message on Twitter reading, “Police in Georgia search for man who broke into Taco Bell, made a meal and took a nap.” The tweet received more than 12,000 retweets and invited thousands of glib comments at the man’s expense.

Did any of the outlets that reported on this case ask if the man was homeless or had a history of mental illness or drug abuse? Did these outlets ask if it was wise for the police to engage in a manhunt, using grainy footage of a black man, for such a low-level offense? No. They simply copy and pasted comments from the police and watched the hits roll in.

It’s a familiar script and one that news outlets, local and national, rely on for cheap and easy revenue. “Weird news,” “dumb criminal” stories come across the wires and producers and editors can’t resist the novelty factor. A glance at HuffPost’s “Stupid/Dumb Criminals” tag finds headlines and subheads such as, “Florida Man Breaks Into Jail To See His Friends, Police Say: The suspect was allegedly high on flakka,” and, “Cops Follow Trail Of Macaroni Salad Straight To Robbery Suspects.” ABC 7’s “stupid criminals” tag gives you headlines like, “Clumsy criminal caught on video in Louisiana.” Miami Herald has published a video segment entitled, “Dumb Criminals: Florida Edition.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently ran an AP weekly “weird news” roundup that included both the Taco Bell incident and a story, that also went viral in dozens of outlets, about “2 men accused of gluing winning numbers onto lotto ticket.” 


Viral “weird” and “dumb/stupid criminals” articles—a cousin to the dehumanizing “Florida Man” meme — contribute to a media culture that uncriticially reposts police blotters as news. The first instinct of those who publish them is to gawk rather than humanize, and to overlook difficult questions about why these people are in the circumstances they’re in. 

It may seem like humorless scolding, but the consequences of this type of demonization are real. A key feature of these stories — as seen in follow-up stories about the Taco Bell break-in by The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Fox 5 Atlanta, and several others — is mug shots that spread to hundreds of websites complete with the arrestee’s name. As I’ve reported elsewhere, this process of “mugshot shaming” ruins lives and stains one’s online reputation for decades to come. At the other end of these clickbait stories is a real human being, and to the extent that these are “news,” they are only so because the police see to it that they are.

More than anything, stories of people eating and sleeping in odd places are the end result of a nation that shames poverty and criminalizes homeless people. Stories about people doing bizarre things in public are very likely the byproduct of drug abuse and of mental illness — both of which also are heavily criminalized. When the media does not seek out news but rather has it teed up for them by police blotters, the destitute, people of color, sex workers, and the mentally ill — citizens disproportionately affected by the legal justice system — unfairly become “the news.” 

The most catchy of these stories filters to the top of a viral economy and becomes amusing social media fodder where indifference to human suffering is baked into the business model. A similar phenomon, as Media Matters has documented, occurs in the rightwing media bubble. Shocking local news from Fox and Sinclair affiliates reinforce conservative narratives of out-of-control immigration and runaway vagrancy. Stories that take off on social media are then fed into a national platform like Tucker Carlson’s primetime show where they become points of national conversation.

Any attempt to point out the caustic nature of this media system is often met with the accusation of “taking things too seriously” or “not having a sense of humor.” It’s certainly true that not all “weird news” stories are punching down (many are just silly in nature), but a cursory look at any “weird news” or “dumb/stupid criminal” tags will show many are. 

When editors and reporters see a viral story come across their desk that appears to involve poverty, homelessness, sex work, drug use, or mental health issues, they ought to ask themselves a simple question: Is publishing this going to harm an already criminalized person or population? Is this simply going to invite scorn and mockery? Does a potentially unwell man seeking shelter and food in a Taco Bell really warrant scores of articles and follow-up reports, complete with video and a call to action to help police arrest the man? The answers to these questions are obvious. The willingness for media actors to do something about this obviously horrific genre of reporting is less so.

More in Explainers

In Erie County, Jail Deaths Continue Despite High-Profile Tragedy

The death of 27-year-old India Cummings in 2016 garnered national media attention and a renewed push by local activists over conditions of confinement in the New York county’s jails. But the deaths haven’t stopped.

Illustrations by Cameron Wray.

In Erie County, Jail Deaths Continue Despite High-Profile Tragedy

The death of 27-year-old India Cummings in 2016 garnered national media attention and a renewed push by local activists over conditions of confinement in the New York county’s jails. But the deaths haven’t stopped.


Editor’s note: The reporter’s aunt, Nan Haynes, and father, John Lipsitz, represented plaintiffs  against Sheriff Timothy Howard in 2010 and 2006. Haynes was also a plaintiff in a 2017 lawsuit compelling Howard to properly document and report prisoner suicide attempts. John Lipsitz was cooperating counsel on the New York Civil Liberties Union’s 2014 lawsuit against the Erie County sheriff’s department for Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) violations.

On July 31, 2019, Connell Burrell collapsed at the Erie County Holding Center in downtown Buffalo, New York. A slightly built 44-year-old man with Type 2 diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Burrell had served just 12 hours of a 15-day sentence on a disorderly conduct charge when he crumpled to the floor. He was eventually transported to Buffalo General Medical Center; by the morning of Aug. 2, he was dead.

Although there has been no official finding in Burrell’s death—the New York State Commission of Correction is still investigating—he appears to have died from medical neglect. His blood sugar spiked before jail employees administered a dose of insulin, then it dropped to dangerously low levels. Jail medical staff gave him a peanut butter sandwich in an effort to drive his blood sugar level back up. But the sandwich, which Burrell was too sick to chew or digest properly, impeded attempts by ambulance medics to force air into his lungs. A jail nurse was later fired over Burrell’s treatment.

Burrell was living with his younger sister and her children at the time of his death. Another sister, Monica Lynch, told The Appeal that Burrell was “more of a father figure than an uncle” to his little sister’s children: “He stepped in, played with them, took them to the bus stop, picked them up after school sometimes.” Burrell also had a child of his own, a boy who turned 17 in November.

Despite struggling with physical disability, alcoholism, and the early loss of his mother, Lynch said her brother was “a nice, considerate person, willing to do anything for anyone.”


On average, one person dies every six months in Erie County jails. The Erie County Holding Center in downtown Buffalo has a 638 person capacity and processes over 20,000 people each year. The Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden, New York, can hold approximately 884 people. Since the appointment and subsequent election of Sheriff Timothy Howard in 2005, 30 people have died in the county’s jails. In 2019, four people died: Joseph Bialaszewski, 29, in July; Burrell in August; Daniel Spicola, 40, in September; and Robert Ingalsbe, 33, in October. Ingalsbe and Spicola appeared to have died by suicide. 

When the county legislature submitted Freedom of Information Law requests to the state Commission of Correction last summer, it uncovered two more 2005 deaths that occurred during Howard’s tenure: Erie County Correctional Facility prisoners Nathan Frailey and Daniel McNeil. The commission, however, redacted the cause of death in these cases, as well as details surrounding the June 17, 2005 death of Ethel Ridgeway at the correctional facility. Ridgeway died about one week before Howard was appointed sheriff in late June 2005.

Every Wednesday since 2009, local activists have gathered, usually in front of the holding center, to protest the conditions in Howard’s jails. “There are times when there have only been four or five of us, and times when there are 20,” Karima Amin, founder and director of the Buffalo-based advocacy group Prisoners Are People Too, told The Appeal. “Most people don’t know or care until something big happens or it ends up on their front porch.” 

As of January 2018, Erie County taxpayers spent nearly $2.5 million settling lawsuits that arose from deaths, injuries, and illnesses at its jails. A February 2018 report by the Commission of Correction found Erie County jails to be among the “most problematic local correctional facilities in the state.” The commission is investigating the deaths of Burrell, Spicola, Ingalsbe, and Bialaszewski. Burrell’s sister told The Appeal her family is in the process of filing a lawsuit. The father of 33-year-old Michael Girard, who hanged himself in the holding center in May 2018, filed a wrongful death suit against against Erie County and Sheriff Howard in May 2019.

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn’s office has not investigated a death in a county jail since Flynn was elected in 2016 because one of his prosecutors is married to a sheriff’s deputy. In 2018, Flynn recused his office and asked the state attorney general to investigate the 2016 death of 27-year-old India Cummings at the holding center. (The attorney general’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the status of that investigation.) 

A spokesperson for the DA’s office wrote in an email to The Appeal that she is “not aware of any investigations into deaths in Erie County jails prior to DA Flynn taking office.” In February 2019, Cummings’s family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit  against dozens of sheriff’s office employees, claiming that “the above-captioned Sheriff Deputies, Sergeants, and Lieutenants assigned to observe Cummings literally watched her die.”

Under the state Constitution, Governor Andrew Cuomo has the power to remove sheriffs from office, and in October, a group of activists called for Howard’s removal. The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests from The Appeal for comment.

Howard was re-elected in 2009, 2013, and, by a slender margin, in November 2017. He will be up for re-election in 2021. The Appeal asked the sheriff’s office about the conditions of confinement in Howard’s jails, the continuing deaths there, and the multiple lawsuits over those deaths. Scott Zylka, a sheriff’s office spokesperson, declined to comment and referred requests for comment on litigation to the county attorney’s office.

The county attorney declined to comment and referred The Appeal to the county executive’s press secretary, Peter Anderson. Anderson wrote in an email that “while we cannot and would not speak on behalf of the Sheriff’s office, we can say that the condition of [Erie County] jails meets all New York State Commission of Corrections standards. Our administration is responsible for the administration of forensic mental health services at the Erie County Holding Center and the jail (2 separate facilities) and we have increased investment in that area to provide the best mental health services possible, including building a new re-entry Hub as part of our forensic mental health division location next to the Holding Center.” Asked about the seven lawsuits filed against Sheriff Howard in 2019 alone, Anderson noted that not all of the lawsuits were “jail-related.” (four of the seven are related to events that allegedly occurred in an Erie County jail.)

In an October interview, Howard cited a Department of Justice report that found his jails were in substantial compliance on security and correctional health. “Despite the deaths of certain inmates,” he said, “we have done our part to try to prevent that from happening.” He also said that half the deaths in his jails are suicides and “the person most responsible for a suicide is the person that commits the suicide.”


Illustrations by Cameron Wray.

People are often incarcerated at the Erie County Holding Center for minor offenses, including “mouthing off” to a cop, smoking a joint in the park, driving with a suspended license, or  videotaping the police during a loved one’s arrest, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo attorney Miles Gresham told The Appeal. It’s a pretrial facility, meaning that most people held there are not convicted of a crime and are therefore legally innocent. According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, most people arrested in the county are Black and Latinx.

By that measure, Julie Marinaro, a white woman from an affluent Buffalo suburb, would be an unlikely candidate for arrest and detention. But in 2014, sheriff’s deputy Kenneth Achtyl pulled her over for a minor traffic infraction in Chestnut Ridge Park. Marinaro told The Appeal that her nanny was driving at the time and, irritated by Achtyl’s demeanor, Marinaro said, “Just give us the ticket.”

“That’s when all hell broke loose,” she said. “He did not want to be told what to do. He needed to exert his authority in another way … As soon as he saw he had nowhere to go with his bullying techniques, that he’d lost his authority, it made him insane.” Instead of issuing a ticket, Achtyl kept Marinaro, the nanny, and three of her children waiting in the car for 42 minutes.

Marinaro said that when she attempted to use a nearby restroom, Achtyl ordered her to remain in the vehicle and said he didn’t care if she urinated on herself. After Marinaro refused to get back into the car, Achtyl handcuffed and arrested her in front of her children. Seconds later, her Lycra pants were soaked with urine.

Achtyl then charged Marinaro with obstructing governmental administration and took her to the holding center. Marinaro said that when her husband arrived at the jail to bail her out, employees told him she wasn’t there. Marinaro recalled that the facility was “disgusting” and that basic information was withheld from incarcerated people, food lay on the floor, and the staff was “rude and condescending.” Marinaro recalled that when a staffer filled out an intake form, he asked for her highest level of education. “I said ‘master’s,’ and the guy looks up and said, ‘So you think you’re better than everyone? That’s what I heard about you.’”

“My whole thought the entire time was, ‘I’m going to sue the hell out of these people,’” she said. “I found out later it has one of the highest suicide rates in the country for a holding center. I thought I was a strong woman, but after 24 hours, I would have taken my own life.”

In the end, Marinaro was incarcerated for about 24 hours and she took an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal in her case, which allows a court to defer the disposition of a person’s case, with the potential that the charge will be dismissed if the person doesn’t engage in additional criminal conduct. Marinaro said that she considered suing the county over her treatment but was “definitely afraid of retaliation.” Now, five years after her arrest, Marinaro said she regrets not suing “because not only did he do that to me, he did it to someone else.”


That “someone else” was University at Buffalo student Nick Belsito. In December 2017, Belsito and a group of friends were tailgating outside a Buffalo Bills game when one of the tailgaters threw a beer can into a crowd. The can hit Achtyl on the elbow. Achtyl arrested the person who threw the can, and Belsito asked where he was being taken. At first Achtyl tried to shoo Belsito away, in part by threatening him with arrest; eventually, Achtyl said, “10 Delaware,” the address of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. Belsito, however, is not a Buffalo native, so he didn’t recognize the address. Achtyl then told Belsito to “Beat it.” Belsito replied, “What do you mean, beat it? You’re a fucking cop!”

According to footage from Achtyl’s partner’s body camera, a cell phone video taken by a young woman at the scene, and eyewitnesses, Achtyl then got out of  his vehicle, chased Belsito, placed his baton on Belsito’s neck and dragged him back to the vehicle, where he beat him in the head, leaving Belsito with a concussion and a broken nose. After the beating, Achtyl arrested Belsito, joked about his injuries—he nicknamed him “Mr. Bloody Face”—and charged him with disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration, and criminal mischief.

In June 2018, prosecutors with the Erie County district attorney’s office dismissed the charges against Belsito after reviewing the body camera footage. Prosecutors then brought a criminal case against Achtyl, and in September 2019 a jury convicted Achtyl of reckless assault, official misconduct, and falsifying business records for lying about his encounter with Belsito on an arrest form.

Sheriff Howard attended Achtyl’s trial as a show of support for the deputy and maintained that because Achtyl was convicted of misdemeanors and not felonies, he would not automatically be fired. Erie County DA Flynn told The Appeal that the sheriff’s office “should have fired him,” because under New York State’s Public Officers Law, “they didn’t have a choice.”

Belsito sued Achtyl, Sheriff Howard, and Erie County. The complaint, which remains open, was removed from New York State Supreme Court and filed in federal court in February 2019. Achtyl is also one of three sheriff’s deputies being sued by a different man for allegedly assaulting him during a 2018 traffic stop.

At a March meeting of the county legislature’s Public Safety Committee, Sheriff Howard was asked about the possibility of deputies being required to wear body cameras, an idea that won support among local legislators after Belsito’s beating. Howard replied by likening support for body cameras—which he characterized as “we don’t believe you—die for us, but we don’t believe you”—to those who doubted the resurrection of Jesus.

In October, the Buffalo News reported that Achtyl resigned from the Erie County sheriff’s office and back-dated his resignation letter to make it appear that he had submitted it before conviction. In an email to The Appeal, Chief John Greenan of the Administrative Services Division of the sheriff’s office wrote, “Deputy Achtyl retired prior to his conviction and therefore was reported as such.” When asked to clarify whether Achtyl retired or resigned, Greenan replied that he retired. It’s not clear why Achtyl chose to do so. The state comptroller’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether a 46-year-old sheriff’s deputy who retired after 19 years would qualify to draw a pension.

Achtyl is scheduled to be sentenced in the Belsito case on Jan. 23. His attorney, Albert J. D’Aquino, wrote in an email that although Achtyl “appreciates” The Appeal’s outreach, he cannot comment on the Belsito or Marinaro matters, due to pending litigation in the Belsito case and on the advice of his attorneys. D’Aquino added that, according to Achtyl, it “would not be fair or warranted” to construe his unwillingness to comment “as anything other than my resolve to follow the advice of my attorneys.”


Illustrations by Cameron Wray.

This month, Erie County’s Corrections Specialist Advisory Board will begin meeting. Gresham, the Legal Aid attorney, was appointed to the board and told The Appeal that one of his priorities is “reforming the way people who are in mental distress or having mental health problems are treated in the Holding Center, and how well they’re taken care of in the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), or while being transferred between ECMC and the Holding Center or vice versa.”

The 2016 death of India Cummings—she suffered a mental breakdown and, after refusing food and medication and flooding her cell, was seen babbling, smearing food on herself, and lying in a pool of her own urine—brought national media attention to Erie County and scrutiny of its jails, making the board’s work all the more urgent. 

But the deaths did not stop. On July 26, 2019, just one week before Connell Burrell’s death, Joseph Bialaszewski died at the Buffalo General Medical Center after being found unresponsive in his holding center cell. His mother was told that her son died of a ruptured ulcer that led to sepsis and cardiac arrest. Bialaszewski was incarcerated on a parole violation, then charged with obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. The mother of his child’s mother told the Buffalo News that his arrest left him with five stitches over one eye. (It’s not clear whether the arresting officers suffered any injuries.)

Although Bialaszewski had complained of feeling ill, jail employees placed him in a remote detox cell away from medical staff and not in constant view of guards. The doctors who treated him at the medical center discovered that he had been bleeding internally from a perforated ulcer. They couldn’t say with certainty how long he had been lying unresponsive on the floor of his cell before jail staff found him. “They would have seen that he was just laying there in pain, and maybe they could have saved his life,” Gail Bialaszewski, his mother, told the Buffalo News.

Monica Lynch, Burrell’s sister, told The Appeal that she empathized with the Bialaszewski family. She helped raise funds for Gail Bialaszewski when Bialaszewski couldn’t afford the $900 required to collect her son’s ashes from a local funeral home. She “needed some closure,” Lynch said.


Lynch told The Appeal that she has seen Sheriff Howard in person only once since her brother died and that he ignored her. “He never said one thing out of his mouth about none of the people at the holding center,” she said. “He never apologized to none of them, to anybody.”

When a person is born, Lynch said, everybody wants the best for them, “like in the movie, ‘The Lion King.’ I don’t understand how 20-30 years down the line, people don’t see them like that.”

She said her brother was a human being “and all of these people, the 29 other deaths—they weren’t just numbers, they were human beings, too.”

“Every time we take a step and kill an ant,” she added, “we don’t know how the ant died or nothing. Because they’re so small, you can’t see. People treated my brother like an ant. But every life amounts to something.”