NEW YORK (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 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius).
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.
The medical examiner’s office said an autopsy was inconclusive and that more tests were needed to determine Murdough’s exact cause of death. But the officials, all with detailed knowledge of the case, say initial indications from the autopsy and investigation point to extreme dehydration or heat stroke.
Advocates for mentally ill inmates in New York 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.