Deadly Restraint

Two jail fatalities involve use of force in both cases, but only silence from officials.

On May 11, Oswald Livermore, a 51-year-old postal worker facing a misdemeanor charge, died in a Manhattan jail shortly after correction officers used force to restrain him.

Seven days later, a second inmate, 23-year-old robbery suspect Jermele Kelly, died in the jail psych ward at Bellevue Hospital shortly after he was restrained by guards.

Deaths in the jails involving the use of force are rare. In fact, no one in local correction circles could recall the last time that two such deaths occurred so closely together.

The two deaths come at an awkward time for the Bloomberg administration. That's because Correction Commissioner Martin Horn is in the middle of a push to change standards regulating jail conditions. The effort has drawn major resistance from civil rights groups and inmates' advocacy groups.

The city Medical Examiner's office has yet to issue a cause of death in either case. The Manhattan District Attorney's office has opened investigations into both cases. And jail officials are not commenting. "These are very unfortunate incidents," says DOC spokesman Stephen Morello. "They are thoroughly investigated, and it's premature to reach any conclusions until that process is completed."

At press time, no correction employees had been suspended in connection with either incident, a city official familiar with the case said.Still, there are lingering questions in both cases.

In Livermore's case, for example, how does a reasonably healthy, gainfully employed man—a former Army paratrooper—with four children, three adopted children, and two grandchildren wind up dead less than two days after he was admitted to the jail system on a minor charge?

Jail records show that Livermore arrived at the Tombs in lower Manhattan on May 9 on a misdemeanor following a nonviolent domestic dispute with his wife of 38 years. His bail was $500. Livermore was examined for mental-health treatment, which could have led to placement in an area with more supervision, a source says. But officials opted to leave him in general admissions.

According to an account supplied by sources with knowledge of the incident, early in the morning of May 11, correction officers reported that Livermore was banging his head on a wall in the cell and speaking incoherently. At around 1 a.m., officers on the wing brought him into the hallway. Then, they reported that the five-foot-six, 180-pound inmate began running around the hallway. When they could not subdue him, the officers called for a captain, who then called in a heavily armored "probe" team. Probe teams are special units trained to subdue uncooperative inmates.

The probe team was able to restrain Livermore, but following the encounter, he became unresponsive. The inmate, sources say, may have fallen and struck his head at some point. He was declared dead at Beekman Hospital at 3:15 a.m.

For Livermore's family, the image of him acting irrationally is inconceivable. He had a drinking problem, they say, but no history of mental illness.

"He wasn't crazy and he wasn't violent," says Hilda Livermore, the dead man's wife. "What puzzles me is this idea that they were wrestling him down. I don't see it. If they told him to do something, he would have done it."

The previous day, Livermore spoke with his brother George by phone about assembling the $500 bail. "He sounded perfectly normal; nothing was wrong," says George Livermore, a city worker. "He was supposed to call back the next day. I never got the call."

The only explanation the family has received came from a jail chaplain, who told George that Livermore was "trying to call home and collapsed."

"All I want to know is what happened," says George Livermore. "That's all I want to know."

When he was arrested, Livermore told his wife that he was hoping to get into a treatment program for alcohol abuse. He now rests in Section 29, Site 290, at the Calverton National Military Cemetery on Long Island.

In Jermele Kelly's case, meanwhile, the question is: What happened off the videotape?

Kelly entered the system on a robbery charge on December 2, jail records show. He was moved from a Rikers Island jail to the psychiatric wing at Bellevue Hospital on March 22.

Unlike Livermore, Kelly had a somewhat rootless past. Upon his arrest, he gave a Hempstead address, but following his death, officials could not locate a relative. According to a chronology of the incident, the encounter with the officer took place at 5:05 a.m. on May 18, and Kelly was declared unresponsive about 10 minutes later. He died soon after that.

A video camera in the wing captured a violent struggle between at least one officer and Kelly, sources tell the Voice. As the struggle continued, officers moved Kelly to a holding cell. One of the officers may have used a baton to restrain the inmate, a source says.

Shortly after he was moved to the holding cell, a correction captain checked on him, found he wasn't responding, and summoned medical aid.

It is unclear what happened prior to the videotaped struggle or what happened when the officer moved Kelly to the holding cell, because that part of the sequence was not recorded on videotape. One of the officers may have been injured, but the extent of the injuries is also unclear.

Kelly's lawyer declined to comment.

 
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