Manhattan man’s death in NYPD custody raises questions with family
A Manhattan man struggling with drug addiction was trying to pull his life together before his sudden death in NYPD custody, leaving heartbroken family members wondering what went wrong after his shoplifting arrest last month.
Travis Durkin, 47, died barely three weeks after he was found unconscious in a Manhattan courthouse holding cell while awaiting arraignment on multiple shoplifting charges, his distraught sister told the Daily News.
Family members are questioning whether Durkin was medically detoxed after his arrest, with the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division now probing his death. Police told his sister that Travis suffered a cardiac episode when he collapsed two days after his Jan. 18 arrest. He died Feb. 9 at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Beyond that, the information given the family about his death remains distressingly incomplete, said older sister Chloe Durkin.
“We don’t really know what happened,” said Durkin. “He was unconscious for days before they told us he was in the hospital ... How long was he under the supervision of police and unconscious?”
The East Village man was one of three siblings and the father of a 21-year-old daughter, but he struggled with drug addiction. Durkin was trying to get back on his feet, though, and applied for housing in the months before his death.
He was approved for housing while in a coma, according to his sister.
His arrest followed a string of thefts at the Duane Reade pharmacy on W. 4th St. near Broadway, police said, with Durkin accused of stealing $1,683 worth of merchandise during three trips to the store on Jan. 15 and Jan. 16.
When he returned to steal another $40 in items on Jan. 18, police took him into custody, cops said.
The NYPD has yet to provide a specific timeline after his arrest, except to give the date of his death. But Chloe Durkin filled in some of the gaps.
Travis was first hospitalized after he was found unconscious on Jan. 20, with police at the 6th Precinct implying to his sister that he was taken to Bellevue Hospital, then back to the stationhouse, and finally back to Bellevue.
“For over a week, we’re getting these updates that he’s in the hospital with recurring seizures,” she recounted.
Durkin’s 78-year-old father received a call from a nurse the night of Jan. 23 and rushed to New York from his Florida home. He also fielded a call from someone in the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, Chloe Durkin said.
“My dad was very distressed and he has his own health things happening right now,” she said. “He is in the hospital right now. This is his only son.”
Durkin, who lives in the Adirondacks and works as a tax preparer, said her family needed to head to the 6th Precinct stationhouse before they could even get permission to see him.
“No one had any idea how long he was unconscious,” she alleges. Her brother started suffering seizures and was taken off life support on Feb. 5 before he was declared brain dead. Chloe Durkin was by her brother’s bedside for his final days.
Doctors found heroin, methadone, cocaine and alcohol in Travis’ system, his sister said. She wonders whether he was placed on a drug tapering program after his arrest or whether he asked to be hospitalized once in handcuffs.
“Was he medically detoxed?” she asked.
The NYPD would not answer questions about Durkin’s medical treatment, saying only, “The incident is under investigation by the NYPD’s Force Investigation Division.”
The Medical Examiner’s office said Durkin’s cause of death is pending.
Travis’ longtime friend James Doukas, 51, said his buddy struggled with addiction but was doing okay when they last met.
“He was a fantastic person,” recalled Doukas. “Very kind. Loyal. Very goal-oriented. He was into working out and boxing.”
Another friend, 44-year-old Nico Ramirez, was shocked by the death because Travis seemed put together at their final meeting.
“He looked great,” she said. “He had clean clothes. He has combed his hair. He said, ‘Hello, how you doing? What you up to?’ ... And no exaggeration, he looks better than I had seen him in a long time.”
The Long Branch, N.J., native’s issues with addiction may have stemmed from guilt over his mother’s death, said his sister — explaining she died giving birth to him.
“He never got over that,” said Chloe. “I blame his addiction on that. He’s blamed himself for that, as if it was his fault.”
At age 13, he was sent to live in a group home for mental health treatment. But once he turned 18, he headed for New York City and often skipped taking his meds, his sister said.
By the time of his arrest, Travis was bouncing between shelters, jail stays and friends’ houses. He got work when he could, most recently doing deliveries for Whole Foods, said Chloe Durkin — who remembered her brother as a jokester who loved music and dancing.
Chloe Durkin said she last saw her brother the day after Christmas, when the siblings all met for lunch and walked around the Lower East Side together. Just two days before his arrest, he sent along birthday wishes to Chloe via Facebook.
“Happy Birthday Big Sister!!!!” he wrote. “I hope you have an awesome day and many, many more awesome birthdays in the future. I love you Coco. Be well.”
She responded with a heart emoji, but she wishes she had done more.
“I wanted to get back in touch with him and I didn’t,” she said, “I’m beside myself that I just only reacted to it and didn’t reach out.”