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Conditions at Brooklyn Central Booking, lack of medical attention blamed for woman’s death

Brooklyn resident Kyam Livingston, who died in police custody. Photo courtesy of the Taub Law Firm

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The family of a Brooklyn woman who died while in police custody has filed a wrongful death suit against New York City and the New York City Police Department, citing failure to provide medical attention as the proximate cause of death.

Kyam Livingston was arrested early Saturday morning on July 20 for violating a limited restraining order requiring Livingston to “refrain from loud arguments or the consumption of alcohol” while in the home she shared with her grandmother, Theresa Johnson.   Johnson called the police after supposedly smelling alcohol on Livingston, who had returned home from a party.

At 1:30 a.m. Livingston was escorted by the NYPD to Kings County Hospital for alcohol and drug testing.  Seven hours later, Livingston was discharged from the hospital and transported to the 70th precinct at 154 Lawrence Ave. for processing. Livingston was eventually sent to Brooklyn Central Booking at 120 Schermerhorn St. to await arraignment.

The conditions in central booking where Livingston was held are described in the notice of claim against the city and the NYPD as “extremely fetid” and “overcrowded.”  The suit alleged that Livingston, feeling ill, called out repeatedly for medical attention, but her pleas were ignored.

In a room “filled with feces and other unsanitary conditions,” Livingston “succumb[ed] to her ailments…in full view of [NYPD and City] staff, personnel, and other detainees” the notice of claim asserts.  It is alleged that surveillance video captured Livingston’s entire ordeal.

“ We are desperately seeking the surveillance tape from inside the cell,” Brooklyn criminal attorney Jay Schwitzman told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Schwitzman, a lawyer for Livingston, although he is not handling the civil claims, noted that Livingston’s family does not want to show the video to the public, but rather “needs the video to determine whether or not the NYPD acted appropriately.”  

If the police acted in accordance with proper protocol,” Schwitzman said, “then the tape would have been offered immediately. The fact that the tape is being withheld suggests that the police ignored Livingston’s pleas for help.”

After Livingston was confined for 20 hours, an ambulance was dispatched at approximately 6:40 a.m. on Sunday, July 21st to attend to her medical needs. Livingston was transferred to Brooklyn Hospital and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.  The NYPD said her death was the result of a seizure, a claim the suit contends is false and misleading.

 “This is the fault of the New York Police Department, not the Office of Court Administration, court or correction officers,” Schwitzman stressed. He suggested that Livingston’s death could have been avoided if NYPD officers stationed at central booking had more training.

“Officers at Central Booking are typically there for disciplinary reasons, as a punishment or reprimand,” Schwitzman said.  This leads to callousness,” Schwitzman continued, “and it was callousness that resulted in death in this case.”

“The case involves a very tragic situation, and the city will review the matter thoroughly," said a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department.

A prayer vigil was held in front of Central Booking last week to call attention to Livingston’s death and to bring awareness to the conditions of the holding cells there.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office is conducting a criminal investigation of Livingston’s death. The Taub Law Firm in Manhattan is representing Livingston's family in the civil suit against the city.

August 26, 2013 - 1:00pm


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