A man battling addiction dies in a police holding cell, and his mother remembers
Eight days had passed since Lynnel Cox’s son died after being found unconscious in a Boston Police Department cell in the South End. He had been arrested for breaking into a car, and was found dead just before 6 a.m.
Authorities had not revealed that someone had died in custody on July 14, less than two months after another man died in the same station. So no one knew about Shayne Stilphen.
On Monday, Cox decided that needed to change. She had three large poster boards filled with photos of Stilphen — as a smiling toddler in a bowtie; as a young man at Gillette Stadium with his family on Mother’s Day a few years back; and with his two younger sisters, their palms pressed against each other.
She put the poster boards into a black trash bag and brought them from East Bridgewater to the Suffolk district attorney’s office in downtown Boston. She propped one against the glass facing the employees in reception, another over some waiting-area chairs, and the third on the floor just off the elevators, where everyone would see.
Stilphen was 28. He spent much of his adult life fighting heroin addiction.
Cox said she believed he overdosed while in the holding cell. She wanted to know how it happened — not just for him, but for others in police custody who are addicted to drugs.
“How do you keep them safe? You make sure you’re watching the cameras. You make sure you’re going by, so in case they’re sleeping and their body looks lifeless. . . ,” she said before trailing off. “That’s what you do to make sure you keep people alive. Because that’s what our tax dollars pay you to do, to protect and serve.”
Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a Boston Police Department spokesman, said the department’s internal affairs and homicide units are investigating the July 14 death. He declined to say how long the man had been in the holding cell when he was found unconscious, citing the ongoing investigation.
The Suffolk district attorney’s office said the man was taken to Tufts Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. They declined to release his name because “the preliminary investigation indicates that the death is not the result of criminal action,” said Renee Nadeau Algarin, a spokeswoman for Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins.
“Today, a mother and a community grieve the loss of a loved one, yet one more promising life lost,” Rollins said in a statement Monday. “We take every death investigation seriously, and we will continue to support the family as they process the trauma of this loss and work toward healing.”
In late May, another man, 39, died while in custody in the same police station, officials said. He was arrested in Boston on a warrant from New Hampshire. When he died he was alone in his cell, and there were no signs of trauma found on his body, police said. The man told police he was homeless when he was taken into custody.
That investigation is ongoing. Boston police and Suffolk district attorney’s office declined to provide updates Monday. He has not been publicly identified.
Stilphen was born in Quincy and raised in East Bridgewater and Venice, Fla.
He would have turned 29 early next month. Cox said she wants to turn his birthday into a kind of block party, and invite people he knew and cared for who are also going through addiction or recovery.
Stilphen’s addiction turned his mother into an advocate. She started an organization called Hand Delivered Hope, which brings care packages to people dealing with homelessness and addiction. On his Facebook page, Stilphen posted a photo of him with his mother, both wearing yellow T-shirts with the organization’s logo.
“Shayne had a lot of me in him, and I have a lot of him in me,” Cox said. “We both tried to help people at different levels.”
In his obituary, Stilphen was remembered as “a loving, protective son to his mother and father.”
“To his sisters he was a ray of sunshine, offering priceless words of wisdom always. Family was everything to Shayne and Shayne was everything to them,” it read.
Cox buried her son on Saturday in Weymouth. A friend brought her a ring, a silver-colored band engraved with the word “Shayne” on one side and his date of death on the other.
She spent Monday morning in tears at the district attorney office’s reception area. In less than an hour, she was taken into another room, carrying her poster boards, to meet with officials.
After the meeting, she said she didn’t get all the answers she wanted, but did feel she was heard.
“I have to wait. I have to see how this really does unfold,” she said.