BUFFALO, NY – The attorney for the family of woman who died after being held at the Erie County Holding Center in 2016 says he is not surprised by the official findings of the incident, which offer a scathing rebuke of the conduct of her jailers.
The report was prepared by the New York State Commission of Correction, which has oversight over jails and prisons throughout the state.
“It validates everything that we set forth in our complaint and everything I’ve alleged from the very beginning,” said Matthew Albert, who represents survivors of India Cummings. “Disturbing doesn’t even come close to doing justice to what happened to India…which was heartbreaking,” Albert told 2 On Your Side.
Though heavily redacted in parts, the report still paints a picture of the treatment, or lack thereof, offered to Cummings while in custody, which goes beyond “scathing” or “damning,” according to Albert
“The one adjective that needs to be used here, is ‘criminal’, because that’s what this was,” Albert said.
The report concludes, among other things, Cumming’s “manner of death was homicide by medical neglect.”
Cummings was arrested in Lackawanna after committing a carjacking, leading police on a chase which resulted in collisions with three other vehicles, and fighting with officers after she was finally stopped in February 2016.
Taking her to the Erie County Holding Center with a broken arm was the first of several errors noted by the review panel, which contends, “a mental health referral for ECMC would have been appropriate.”
Cummings spent 17 days in the jail, during which time the report says she was combative with officers, destroyed her cell, refused medical treatment, or food at times, and babbled while urinating and defecating on the floor.
However, despite observing this, the report says her jailors made no immediate referrals to the jail physician or reports to jail administration.
Dr. F. Scott LaPoint, who performed the autopsy on Cummings has said he could not determine cause of death without more information, but said he believed an untreated broken arm was a contributing to the death of Cummings. He noted he could not certain whether Cummings broke her arm in a car crash, or when arrested by police, or in later clashes with jail deputies. So he could not say if the break was accidental or inflicted by others. But the pathologist said muscle and tissue damage released chemicals that led to kidney failure through a condition called rhabdomyolysis. Further, high levels of ketones in her body – ketoacidosis – existed before she arrived at the jail and probably explained her ongoing confusion and erratic behavior, he wrote.
Only when she went into cardiac arrest was Cummings taken to Buffalo General where she died, with the review panel stating: “had she received appropriate medical care, her death would have been prevented.”
“An analogy would be a mother just allowing her baby, who is sick or something like that, to just sit there until her baby passes away. That’s what we have here, is a depraved indifference to India’s wellbeing by those who were in custody of her,” Albert said.
Albert noted especially a passage in the 33 page report in which the review panel states, “The medical and mental health care provided to Cummings by Erie County during the course of incarceration, and her care, custody and safekeeping by Erie County sheriff deputies was so grossly incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.”
Through a spokesperson, Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard declined comment on the report, due to ongoing litigation.
Meanwhile, Albert is calling on Erie County District Attorney John Flynn to launch a criminal investigation into Cumming’s treatment and death, and to bring charges against those in whose care and custody she had been.
A spokesperson for Flynn told 2 on Your Side that his office has yet to receive a copy of the report, but will review it and make a determination once they do.
“They could throw us ‘x-amount’ of millions of dollars today, and justice would not be served,” said Albert. “Justice is only served if the individuals that caused her death are on the other side of the bars at the holding center.”