NEW YORK (PIX11/AP) — A New York City official tells The Associated Press that a mentally ill homeless veteran who died behind bars last month “basically baked to death” in a jail cell that overheated to more than 100 degrees.
Fifty-six-year-old Jerome Murdough had been charged with trespassing and placed in an observation unit for inmates with mental illnesses at Rikers Island.
Four city officials say Murdough, who took anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, apparently did not open a small vent to let cool air into his cell, as other inmates did.
Officials also said he was not checked for hours, in violation of department protocol.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation by the city’s Department of Correction.
Acting Commissioner Mark Cranston gave PIX11 the following statement:
“The safety of inmates and staff is our top priority, and the death of an inmate under our supervision is never acceptable. The department is conducting a full investigation of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Murdough’s unfortunate death, including issues of staff performance and the adequacy of procedures. While we cannot comment on the facts surrounding his death while the investigation is underway, preliminary information suggests there were unusually high temperatures in Mr. Murdough’s cell. The Department accordingly has taken remedial action to correct any mechanical problems in the immediate facility and to ensure that safe temperatures are maintained throughout the entire jail system, particularly in areas housing vulnerable inmates.”
Officials say that the DOC found several other cells that were over 80 degrees, and “maintenance staff addressed the issue immediately.” In the days after his death, several “minor adjustments to lower thermostat levels” were made, but that no major deficiencies were found.