Thursday, March 20, 2014

Homeless Vet 'Baked To Death' In NY Jail Cell

Jerome Murdough (AP/Jason DeCrow)
March 20, 2014 - On a chilly night last month, a homeless former U.S. Marine was arrested in New York City for trespassing. Jerome Murdough, 56 years old and struggling with mental illness, was asleep in the warmth of an enclosed stairwell on the roof of public housing project in Harlem. The ultimate irony: His arrest would cause him to die the following week in an overheated Rikers Island jail cell.

Four city officials, reports AP, say that Murdough's jail cell reached at least 100 degrees, likely due to malfunctioning equipment. "The officials told The Associated Press that the 56-year-old former Marine was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, which may have made him more vulnerable to heat. He also apparently did not open a small vent in his cell, as other inmates did, to let in cool air." AP quotes one anonymous official as saying, "He basically baked to death."

Jerome Murdough (AP/Family Photo)
According to the city officials, reports Think Progress, Murdough was alone into a 6-by-10 cinderblock cell at about 10.30pm on February 14, a week after his arrest. "Because he was in the mental-observation unit, he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of suicide watch, they said. But Murdough was not discovered until four hours later, at about 2.30am on February 15. He was slumped over in his bed and already dead."

Murdough was "on several medications for his mental illness and seizures," says Think Progress. His death was caused "apparently from heat stroke and dehydration after hours of overheating in a six-by-ten cell."

"Advocates for mentally ill inmates in New York," AP reports, "say the death represents the failure of the city’s justice system on almost every level: by arresting Murdough instead of finding him help, by setting bail at a prohibitive $2,500 and by not supervising him closely in what is supposed to be a special observation unit for inmates with mental illnesses."

Also See:
Rikers Island Struggles With a Surge in Violence and Mental Illness NY Times
Homeless Vet ‘Bakes to Death’ in Jail: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know Heavy
Rikers prison guards cleared of inmate beating charges New York Post
Rikers Island inmates use toilet to break cinderblock cell walls in escape attempt NY Daily News