Coroner: Inmate’s mysterious death was from natural causes
A 21-year-old inmate in Pennsylvania whose death under mysterious circumstances sparked weeks of protest succumbed to natural causes, the coroner said Thursday.
Ty’rique 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, Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick said at a news conference.
The coroner said that he doesn’t know what caused the fatal inflammation, but that it could have been a virus, cocaine or both, adding that cocaine was found in Riley’s system. Toxicology testing did not indicate how much cocaine was in Riley’s body or when he took it.
Authorities have said Riley 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.
Photos taken at the funeral home and released by Riley’s family showed his battered body.
But Hetrick said the bruising had nothing to do with his death.
The illness that killed him “could very well be viral, or it could be drug induced, but either way, his cause of death is natural, and has nothing to do with any bruising that was on his body,” the coroner said. “We did not see any trauma on his body that would have caused him to die.”
The family’s attorney, Riley Ross III, said the coroner’s report will be reviewed by an independent expert, adding the family isn’t satisfied with the results of the investigation. He also questioned why it took eight days for the prison to take Riley to the hospital, given his symptoms.
“We are in the early stages of this, and we look forward to fighting for the family to get answers,” Ross said.
Riley had no criminal record before police showed up at his door June 18. In court documents, police said he struck his father in the chest, neck and back with a large sledgehammer in an “unprovoked attack” at their home around 4:45 a.m.
The family has disputed that account.
His father, Thomas Matthews, said his son had heard noises outside, thought an intruder was lurking and grabbed a sledgehammer. Thomas, who had been sleeping, said he told Riley to put it away and go back to bed. Riley refused. Thomas said he tried to get the sledgehammer away from his son, took a hard fall and then had trouble with his pacemaker. That prompted Riley’s mother to call 911.
Hetrick said Riley’s odd behavior on the night of his arrest and at the prison was likely caused by the swelling in his brain.
“He was seeing reality differently than you and I would see it,” the coroner said. “It altered his behavior.”
Riley’s death sparked weekly protests outside the lockup, which houses about 1,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania capital.