BY A.J. BELL
In the aftermath of a murder at the Erie County Holding Center that killed a healthy 27 year old woman named India Cummings on February 17, activists are calling for Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard to resign. Howard has never had a warm relationship with Erie County’s Black community, and activists say that this egregious incident has the community deeply discontent.
“A healthy young women was beaten and denied medical care for three weeks, forcing her to die a slow death because of a culture among Sheriff’s deputies,” says one East Side activist.
Social justice activists have been demanding that US Attorney William Hochul, the husband of Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, launches a federal probe into the Cummings murder and into broader civil rights violations at the jail.
The Erie County Holding Center has an inmate suicide rate more than five times the national average. In 2009 the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the sheriff and then-County Executive Chris Collins for failing to monitor and protect inmates and turning a blind eye toward abuses. Howard and Collins fought the lawsuit until 2011.
In Buffalo’s marginalized neighborhoods, individuals who have experienced the holding center tell dark stories of intimidation, brutality, and disregard that are stomach turning. In horrific detail they recount a culture of violence that enables a handful of deputies to routinely beat inmates. Many individuals who have been in and out of the facility claim that the deputies misclassify murders committed by officers as suicides.