Rikers Island Inmate 'Baked To Death' In Hot Cell
A New York City inmate "baked to death" in his Rikers Island jail cell that overheated to at least 100 degrees, according to city officials. Jerome Murdough, a 56-year-old former Marine, was found dead in the room, with the incident attributed to malfunctioning equipment. He was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, officials told the Associated Press, which could have made him more vulnerable to the heat.
Murdough was arrested in February for trespassing after looking for a place to sleep in a stairwell on the roof of a public housing project. After finding his body in the cell a week later, on Feb. 15, officials noted he hadn't opened a small vent in his cell to let in cool air. An inconclusive autopsy didn't determine his exact cause of death, but preliminary investigations suggest possible heat stroke or extreme dehydration.
Department of Correction spokesman Robin Campbell said the temperature in Murdough's cell was "unusually high" and steps were being taken to fix other equipment problems in the facility. Officials detailed he was locked in the cinderblock room around 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 in the metal-observation unit. Questions have been raised, since Murdough was supposed to be checked on every four hours as part of a suicide watch — his body wasn't found until 2:30 a.m. the next day.
His own mother didn't know he had died until the Associated Press reached out to her, though she hadn't been in contact with her son for three years. She told the AP that Murdough had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Rikers Island has faced increasing difficulties with violent inmates and those with a history of mental illness. The New York Times reports that correction officers at the facility have struggled in their dealings with the mentally ill, while on the flip side, inmates have detailed injuries from physical abuse.
One 2013 report found the treatment of mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island violated city standards, citing dependency on factors like solitary confinement. Meanwhile, Campbell said an internal investigation of Murdough's death will look into issues including "issues of staff performance and the adequacy of procedures."