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Lawsuit pending in India Cummings Holding Center-related death

WBFO's Mike Desmond

A year after India Cummings died at Erie County Medical Center, protestors were at the door of the Erie County Holding Center protesting her death and demanding changes. The lawyer for her family says the cause of death after 17 days in the Holding Center are now clear.

Cummings' cause of death was listed by the Erie County Medical Examiner's Office as "undetermined." However, it is just the latest in a continuing series of deaths in custody related to the county's downtown facility.

Protestors on Tuesday attacked Sheriff Tim Howard for the way he runs the Holding Center, the overall operation of the facility and its internal problems, detailed in a U.S. Justice Department case that recommended changes. Protestor Heron Simmonds said Cummings cannot be forgotten.

"Remember India Cummings. We want to remember her life," Simmonds said. "We want to show respect for her life. My feeling is that when our institutions fail us, it's up to us, so if they don't treat her with respect, we can still do so."

Cummings family attorney Matt Albert said there is no lawsuit about the death yet, but one is likely soon. Albert said it all started when her arm was broken in a confrontation with Lackawanna police officers.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"That arm injury was further aggravated by the physical abuse that she took while in the Holding Center, further compromised by a weakened physical state," Albert said. "She wasn't eating or drinking, so, with that in mind, that caused blood clots to form, which ultimately stopped the blood flow to her brain, causing her to go into cardiac arrest, a pulmonary embolism. Her system shut down completely, causing her demise."

Albert said that determination came from independent pathologists hired by the family to take another look at Cummings' death. He said Cummings was in the Holding Center so long the county's autopsy would not show what led to the outburst that led to her confrontation with Lackawanna Police.

The Sheriff's Department was contacted about Albert's statements, but WBFO has not received a response.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.