© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mother of deceased holding center inmate India Cummings speaks out

Officials continue to examine the death of 27-year-old India Cummings, who had been in the Erie County Holding Center. A state medical review board says her death should be ruled a homicide, because of neglect, and the New York Attorney General has been asked to take the case, and says they will have an answer in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, Cummings' mother says she is waiting for justice.

Tawana Wyatt is a soft spoken, single mother of two.  As she lifts the pages of a photo album you can hear the adhesive release from the plastic. She shows me several photos of her oldest India Cummings.

“I like this one,” she said as she held up a photo of Cummings as a baby sitting on the kitchen counter. “This one. This was me and her one morning and in our first apartment. We were getting ourselves together for the day.”

Tawana Wyatt shows baby photos of her daughter India Cummings.

Cummings was born and raised in Rochester.  She and her mother moved to Lackawanna in 2013. Wyatt, moved back, giving her daughter the chance to live on her own for the very first time.

Her plan was to finish nursing school, but that all changed on February 1, 2016. Around 1 p.m., authorities were called to her home for a mental health related EMS call. Cummings was behaving erratically.

She ran out the front door waving her arms, approached a vehicle, punched the driver, and took the car. She then drove away hitting a few vehicles and a school bus.

“There was definitely something going wrong right from the beginning, that caused her to pull a pedestrian out of the car and punch him and take the car, because her car was right there,” she said. “So, there was definitely something going wrong right from the beginning. What? I don’t know.”

Tawana Wyatt smiles as she remembers her daughter India Cummings.

Wyatt says her daughter did not have a history of mental illness, but could have been under the influence of something that caused her to behave erratically. Cummings was arrested, arraigned and taken to the Erie County Holding Center. Then, 17 days later, she’s dead.

“One of the hardest things, was just trying to protect them as much as you can," she said. "As a mother just trying to protect your kids, and you work so hard on protecting them when they’re young. She got older and I wasn’t able to protect her. That hurts.”

The NYS Commission of Correction recently issued a report about Cummings’ treatment. It stated her health began to deteriorate and she acute renal failure after a cardiac arrest.

Tawana Wyatt discussing the circumstances of her daughter's death and legal processes.

The report stated that since the original call was for medical care due to her altered mental status, and based on her erratic behavior, that she should have been taken to the hospital for evaluation, instead of straight to jail. 

The commission declined to comment further, but issued the following statement:

"The Commission stands by its report: India Cummings would be alive had she received timely and appropriate care, supervision and intervention. To date, Erie County’s only response has been to assert - incorrectly - that the Commission exceeded its statutory authority by issuing independent findings about her death. The Commission and its Medical Review Board will continue to monitor all aspects of the jail’s operations and urge the Sheriff, County Legislature, and county medical and mental health service providers to implement the changes necessary to improve the standard of care at the facility before one more individual suffers the same fate as Ms. Cummings."

Wyatt’s lawyer Matthew Albert is leading the way on a civil suit against the county, sheriff, and others involved. The Sheriff’s department did not respond to attempts for comment.

India’s mom maintains hope.

“Now, I’ll just, I’ll wait for the justice. I’ll wait for the justice," she said.

Will justice happen?

"I’m hoping that it will," she said. "I’m hopeful."

Related Content