Witnesses say cops did nothing while woman convulsed for hours before dying
By Stephen Witt
The family of a Brooklyn woman who died in a Brooklyn holding cell after cops reportedly refused to help the convulsing victim despite the pleas of other inmates for help filed an $11 million federal wrongful death lawsuit this week.
The incident occurred in the early morning hours of July 21 after cops arrested Kyam Livingston, 37, for arguing with her 78-year-old grandmother at their Prospect Park South home. Livingston reportedly drank a bottle of vodka and turned violent against her grandmother, who had an order of protection against her.
According to fellow inmates of Livingston, she became increasingly ill with stomach pains, diarrhea and eventually convulsions over the course of seven hours while awaiting arraignment. These witnesses said on-duty NYPD officers ignored Livingston while other inmates pleaded for someone to come to her aid. One witness, who is a registered nurse, indicated Livingston had been dead for 20 minutes before Emergency Medical Services finally arrived on the scene.
“Ms. Livingston’s death was avoidable,” said Elliot Taub, one of the family’s lawyers. “The bitter irony is that in order to bring the lawsuit our clients were forced to answer questions about Kyam and themselves while the city still won’t answer our inquiries about why steps were not taken to avoid Kyam’s suffering and this unspeakable tragedy.”
Livingston’s family and supporters, including Congressman Hakeem Jeffries and City Councilman Brad Lander, also demanded the names of the NYPD officers involved and the video of the filthy jail cell where she was held during the final painful hours of her life. They also called for changes to the conditions in Brooklyn Central Booking.
“Kyam Livingston senselessly died in police custody after being subjected to inhumane conditions in central booking,” said Jeffries. “She should be alive today, and this lawsuit will help the family get clarity as to how this tragedy came to occur.”
Jay Schwitzman, president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association, likened the city’s holding cells to medieval dungeons.
“Low-level offenders are placed with violent felons in small cells that have no bed, one open toilet, rodents, roaches and extremely unsanitary conditions. They are also denied medication and proper medical attention,” he said.
The lawsuit comes as the city medical examiner ruled that Livingston’s death was of “natural causes” due to an alcoholic seizure.
Kyam Livingston’s cause of death was disclosed Monday as family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Brooklyn Federal Court alleging the woman’s pleas for medical assistance were ignored by cops at the central booking jail.
A spokeswoman for the Brooklyn DA’s Office said prosecutors are reviewing the medical examiner’s findings. The status of the NYPD internal investigation of the incident was unclear at press time.
The central booking holding cell is located on Schermerhorn Street in downtown Brooklyn. Those arrested for anything from misdemeanor offenses to serious felonies are often taken from the precinct in which they were arrested to the holding cell until arraigned before a judge either the next morning or on the Monday following a weekend.
Witnesses at the scene of the incident reportedly said cops told them to stop complaining about Livingston’s condition or their paperwork to go before the judge could get lost, forcing the witnesses to stay in the holding cell for a longer period of time.