Family of Kyam Livingston, dead in police custody, to sue city

Kyam Livingston's mother, Anita Neal, weeps as she looks at photos of her daughter, who died in police custody three months ago at the age of 37.  Credit: Bess Adler
Kyam Livingston’s mother, Anita Neal, weeps as she looks at photos of her daughter, who died in police custody three months ago at the age of 37.
Credit: Bess Adler

Brooklyn mother of two Kyam Livingston, 37, died in police custody three months ago while awaiting arraignment for nearly 24 hours in Brooklyn Central Booking.

Now her family is demanding answers from the NYPD about what happened while she was in their care. The family’s attorneys say multiple witnesses have said Livingston was in pain for as many as seven hours, pleading with police officials for help and medical treatment before she died.

“Her cellmates — so-called criminals — were rendering aid” while police did nothing, attorney Jay Schwitzman said.

Livingston was arrested July 20 about 1:51 a.m. after getting into an argument with her 79-year-old grandmother.

The family’s attorney said the dispute was not violent, but that there was a customized order of protection prohibiting alcohol or fighting in the home. Livingston went to take a shower, the attorney said, and when she got out, police officers were in her home.

According to police reports, after she was arrested, Livingston was first taken to Kings County Hospital for “apparent intoxication.”

She was brought to Brooklyn Central Booking at 10:30 a.m. to be arraigned. At 6:40 a.m. the next day, according to police reports, she was taken by emergency medical personnel to Brooklyn Hospital for “apparent seizures.” Police said she was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital at 6:58 a.m.

But the family says an eyewitness who was a registered nurse told them Livingston was dead in Central Booking for 20 minutes before emergency medical personnel arrived.

Councilman Jumaane Williams apparently rearranged his schedule to stand beside Livingston’s family at the press conference. The councilman was visibly frustrated, saying he didn’t understand why so little attention was being paid to her death.

“I didn’t even hear about this story until several weeks ago when someone told me about it,” Williams said.

It appeared that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had also not heard about the family’s lawsuit and their demands for the names of the police officers at Central Booking at the time of Livingston’s death, and the video footage from the cell where she was being held.

“We don’t know anything about it,” the mayor said at a press conference earlier in the day, standing beside a shrugging Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

A spokesperson from the city’s law department said they had not yet formally been served a copy of the lawsuit.

Williams noted that he has experienced being arrested in New York City, both as a civilian and a councilmember.

“As a regular resident of New York City, it’s a terrible thing,” he said.

Williams and Livingston’s family are all pushing for reform to Brooklyn Central Booking, so that people arrested on low-level charges like illegal street vending aren’t held alongside people arrested on charges of rape and murder.

They want systemic change — but they also want personal answers as to what happened to their loved one, and why her cries for help would have gone unanswered for so many hours, as witnesses have reportedly alleged.

“She didn’t deserve this,” wept Livingston’s mother, Anita Neal. “I would still be with my daughter today if she had gotten attention. They let her beg for seven hours.”

Anna Sanders contributed reporting to this article.

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat



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  1. So many like to make the argument that Kyam somehow deserved to be treated inhumanely while in custody because she was (allegedly) intoxicated. I didn’t know that the Constitutions 8th Amendment (which protects us from cruel and unusual punishment) only applied to those who are sober. But since the laws only apply to those who are sober, shall we recall that the police were sober? The police knew what their job was and what the police procedures are and they decided that Kyam’s life didn’t matter and they didn’t care if she died in their custody. It is true that prior to being sent to Booking Kyam saw a doctor. She was treated and released. Did the police rush the release because they don’t like to sit in the ER with an angry person who is under the influence of alcohol when they could be stopping and frisking/using excessive force/harassing people of color on our city streets to bring their quotas up instead? Police had been told that if Kyam had certain symptoms, she should be returned to the hospital immediately. She cried out in pain. They ignored her. She had diarrhea which everyone in the cell can see and smell because there are no closed toilets in Brooklyn Central Booking. This is a sign that she wasn’t faking but was ill. Still they ignored her. Others in the cell were aware of how sick she was and banged on the bars saying “this woman will die”. Instead of helping they told the women to shut up or their paperwork would be lost. Finally Kyam went into convulsions. As she lay on the bench convulsing in not a sudden seizure but death throes the police said “let it play out” like it was no big deal. After all people die in front of cops every day so why should they care?