When Brittany Kittrell arrived in Durham two years ago to beat her heroin habit, she weighed 150 pounds.

“She stayed with me,” her grandmother Sylvia Taylor told the INDY this week. “She told me, ‘Grandma I’m coming home to try to get clean.’ That was the talk all the time.”

When Kittrell died last week while in the county jail’s custody, she was still battling her addiction. Her grandmother said she weighed less than 100 pounds.

As previously reported by the INDY, family members want answers following Kittrell’s death on January 19 at Duke Hospital, where she had been transferred four days after she was booked into the Durham County jail.

Police accused Kittrell of taking cigarettes, food, and $15 from the North Durham apartment that she shared with a romantic partner. Arrest warrants also stated that Kittrell threatened him with a knife, and claimed his “life was endangered.” 

Kittrell’s address on the arrest warrants matched the apartment where she was charged. She also faced a felony possession of cocaine charge.

She was booked into the Durham County jail in lieu of a $100,000 bond before it was reduced to $5,000 after her first court appearance.

Court records allege that Kittrell and the man she lived with, “were friends until [the] Victim broke off [the] relationship.” Apparently, she returned to the apartment and was arrested.

Taylor said that except for the drug violation, the charges against her granddaughter were “a fabrication.”

“It was a guy she was in and out with,” she said. “They had an altercation and he had papers taken out against Brittany. He had planned to not press charges and get her out [of jail]. The reason he didn’t get her out is that the bond was so high.”

Sheriff’s officials said this week that Kittrell’s cause of death had not been determined and will be released by the state medical examiner once available.

Taylor said the day before her granddaughter died, a nurse at the detention center told her that her 34-year-old granddaughter was quarantined “in the medical part of the jail,” and had tested positive for COVID-19.

Taylor also spoke this week with a jailer who told her Kittrell had been spitting up “dark blood” before she collapsed on the day she died.

“Brittany told them she was an alcoholic, too. I don’t know,” Taylor said. “Brittany was an addict and we would see her periodically. We just don’t know.”

But Taylor also thinks the city failed her granddaughter and so many others in her condition who can’t afford to pay for residential drug treatment.

“She was supposed to go to rehab and you see how that went,” Taylor said. “Brittany had to pay $15 a day. Where are they gonna get it from if they don’t have insurance?”

Taylor said her granddaughter found an outpatient clinic in North Durham.

 “She started going to one that’s off Guess Road,” she explained. “They kept telling her they were going to put her in a facility. She was there three or four months as an outpatient. When you going to rehab you shouldn’t be able to go in and out. They’re a nuisance to themselves.”

Taylor said her granddaughter tried unsuccessfully to get into at least two other drug recovery programs in the city.

Kittrell was a native of Washington, D.C. and briefly lived in New York, where she studied nursing. In Durham, she worked at IBM at the Research Triangle Park, according to family. Kittrell called her grandmother in February of 2019 and told her she wanted to move into her South Durham home and enter into drug treatment, Taylor said.

Taylor tried to convince her granddaughter to go cold turkey to kick the addiction.

“She would tell me, ‘I can’t do it. You don’t know what it’s like,’” Taylor said.”Heroin is one of the roughest drugs to come off of.”

Kittrell took to the streets, her grandmother said, and she would not be seen by her family for “two to three months at a time.”

“She wouldn’t tell us nothing,” she added. “Durham is not the place for addicts. The streets of Durham is not the place. It’s too many addicts. It’s obvious if you just ride around.”

She said Kittrell used to be “in the Hayti area,” at Umstead and Dawkins streets, a neighborhood that has been riddled with drugs, violent crime, and homelessness. Even on the city’s coldest nights, like Wednesday night where a hard rain was followed by snowfall, at least a half-dozen or more of the city’s homeless residents gather around a bonfire in an open lot to stay warm.

“It’s a house in the area on Umstead, by the [Stanford L. Warren] library,” Taylor said. “That’s where she used to be, and another area on Club Boulevard.”

Taylor’s other granddaughter and Kittrell’s sister, Terraye Morris, told the INDY this week that her sister was often seen on the southern end of Fayetteville Street, near the Food Lion.

Not so, said Taylor, who works one day a week at that Food Lion.

“You can just walk out [of the grocery store] and see them,” she said about residents in the area who are struggling with drug addictions.

Taylor said her granddaughter had come home the week before she was arrested and slept for “two or three days,” before leaving on a Sunday.

“She said, ‘I got to go. I can’t do this,’” Taylor said. Kittrell returned home two days later and asked for $10.

“And she left, and that was it,” she said.

On the night Kittrell died, Taylor said she received a call from a sheriff’s lieutenant just before midnight.

“He was scaring me,” Taylor said. “He said he didn’t want to do it over the phone. I insisted that he do it. He told me she collapsed. A doctor from Duke called and said they tried for almost two hours but they couldn’t revive her.”

Taylor said the family will not hold a service for Kittrell.

“We’re gonna do a straight cremation because of COVID,” she said.

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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