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Protesters call for criminal investigation into India Cummings' death

For two-and-a-half years, the death of India Cummings has  raised questions. Cummings died after spending 17 days at the Erie County Holding Center. Thursday brought another protest outside the Holding Center, in the wake of a state report that said homicide should be listed as the woman's cause of death.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

That cause of death is from the Medical Review Board of the New York State Commission of Correction and comes after the pathologist who did the autopsy, Dr. Scott LaPoint, listed the cause as undetermined, pending further information. Cummings died at Buffalo General Medical Center after being released from Holding Center custody.

"India Cummings, Vincent Sorrentino...."

Protesters outside the Holding Center chanted the names of the 24 people who have died there while Sheriff Timothy Howard has been in control. Much of the protest centered on the sheriff, as has been common in the succession of protests about the death of India Cummings in February 2016.

As several speakers said during the protest, Cummings was undergoing some sort of mental health crisis, making her serious physical health problems worse.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"I left my job as a nurse, after 15 years as a nurse, and looking through this report and seeing time after time all the people who came into contact with this young lady who had the power to stop it, to do something, to escalate it, to say something, and nothing was done," said Open Buffalo's India Walton. "She was deprived of food, of water and medical attention and that is not right."

In a separate media release, Open Buffalo specified the "complete overhaul" needed of Erie County detention:

  • A full review of the misconduct demonstrated by corrections staff in all capacities.
  • Additional resources to train corrections officers to adequately detect mental illness and divert individuals appropriately.
  • Holding the physicians who provided medical treatment to Cummings accountable for failing to adhere to Erie County Department of Health regulations regarding treatment.
  • Hiring additional mental health professionals, so that no inmate is forced to wait weeks for a court-mandated mental health screening.
  • An investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice into the conduct of Erie County officials.
  • Full implementation of LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) in Erie County to identify at-risk individuals like Cummings and connect them to appropriate health and social services. Open Buffalo and our community partners have been advocating for the adoption of LEAD for several years."

One speaker, who identified herself as Ivy, said it was ultimately the sheriff's fault that Cummings is dead.
"The neglect that she suffered at the hands of the Erie County Holding Center and ultimately at the hands of Sheriff Howard is unconscionable," she said. "Now this new report has come out, stating that it was so grossly incompetent as to shock the conscience."

Howard, earlier in the day, said the matter is now out of his hands.

"They've expressed an opinion. The ultimate finder of fact will be a court. This is pending litigation so it would be inappropriate to comment further," Howard said.

Cummings family lawyer Matt Albert said they have turned down major financial offers to settle the case. Albert says he and the family are looking for something else.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"True justice is only going to take place when those responsible, when those who watched her sit in her own waste, sit in her own feces and waste away and die in plain sight over the course of 17 days, true justice won't take place until those individuals are on the other side of those Holding Center bars," Albert said.

After years of protesting Sheriff Timothy Howard and the way he has run the Holding Center, the protesters are also going after County Executive Mark Poloncarz, whose administration was once  in charge of health and mental health care inside until 2016, and District Attorney John Flynn, who could convene a grand jury to look at what happened.

If it came to criminal action, Flynn would probably ask a different DA to step in and handle the case because of conflicts of interest between his office and the Sheriff's Department.

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.
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