An Erie County Legislator, surrounded by dozens of community activists Friday morning, urged New York State Attorney General Barbara Underwood to take up the investigation of India Cummings' 2016 death after spending more than two weeks in the Erie County Holding Center.
Legislator April Baskin hosted dozens of guests in the lobby of the Erie County Legislature Chambers. She opened her remarks by offering criticism of Sheriff Timothy Howard and his department's handling of its Holding Center and Correctional Facility. She then noted the numerous deaths in custody during Howard's time as Sheriff.
She then focused specifically on the India Cummings case. The woman died in 2016, following 17 days in custody. Earlier this year, the State Commission of Correction Medical Review Board ruled the death a homicide due to medical neglect.
Baskin suggests hiring a special prosecutor is not an acceptable option, pointing to the investigation of Richard Metcalf's death. He died in custody in 2012, with evidence suggesting significant abuse. The special prosecutor determined there was not enough evidence to pursue charges.
"The community does not have a lot of confidence in another special prosecutor reviewing this case," Baskin said.
"We cannot let this happen again. We are demanding accountability and we are demanding action. Attorney General Underwood, please, I urge to support us as well. Please come to Erie County. Please investigate."
The Erie County District Attorney cannot investigate to determine if criminal charges are appropriate. District Attorney John Flynn explained that one of his staff is married to an individual who could possibly come under investigation in the Cummings case. The Attorney General was asked to determine if the case is within its jurisdiction. Flynn, meanwhile, asked Erie County Judge Susan Eagan to appoint a special prosecutor if the Attorney General declined.
A decision was anticipated Thursday but the AG's Office was granted, for the second time, an adjournment. Flynn says the AG's Office is doing nothing wrong by asking for more time, given a large volume of evidence that must be reviewed.
"They're going through all the medical records, there's a ton of medical records in this case," Flynn said. "There are statements by individuals at the Holding Center and from the County. There are a ton of statements and medical records, a ton of documents in the file that they have to review here to decide whether they have the jurisdiction."
Baskin and her peers, meanwhile, are troubled by yet another delay. She fears if this, too, were to drag on as the Metcalf case did, Cummings might never get justice.
"India Cummings died in 2016. Soon it will be 2019," she said. "I have great concern with how long it's taking to make a decision."
Baskin, on Thursday, introduced legislation to form an advisory board, made up of corrections professionals from the local community, to provide support and oversight at Erie County's correctional and holding facilities.