A 56-year-old former Marine was found dead in a Riker’s Island jail cell that apparently overheated to at least 100 degrees due to faulty equipment last month.
Jerome Murdough was arrested a week earlier for trespassing when he curled up in an enclosed stairwell on the roof of a Harlem apartment building to sleep. Murdough was homeless and suffered from alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. He was also on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, which may have made him for susceptible to heat.
An autopsy was inconclusive, but initial indications point to extreme dehydration or heat stroke.
He basically baked to death,” said an officials, who chose not to divulge his name because he isn’t allowed to discuss specifics of this case.
Still the question remains: how could this happen?
Because Murdough was in the mental-observation unit, correction officers were supposed to check his cell every 15 minutes as part of a suicide watch. But they didn’t. Murdough was not discovered until four hours after the last check.
Murdough’s 75-year-old mother, Alma Murdough, did not learn about her son’s death until a month later when the Associated Press contacted her. Murdough admitted she hadn’t seen him in three years but describes her son as a “very lovely, caring guy” despite his struggles.
No doubt, Murdough should’ve been referred to psychiatric care. Jennifer Parish, an attorney at the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project argued, “So Mr. Murdough violated the trespass law. So he suffered the consequences by going to jail. But the jail system committed more serious harm to him.”
Naturally, his family wants a better explanation. And Rikers Island to hold some semblance of responsibility.
“We want justice for what was done,” said one of his sisters, Wanda Mehala. “He wasn’t just some old homeless person on the street. He was loved. He had a life. He had a family. He had feelings.”