Jerome Murdough, a former marine in Harlem, New York, died from heat in a prison cell at Rikers Island jail. The homeless gentleman was discovered sleeping in an enclosed stairwell located on a roof of a public housing facility in Harlem, and was detained for trespassing.
One week after his arrest, Murdough was found deceased in a scorching hot prison cell that officials attest was over 100 degrees due to equipment that had malfunctioned. Murdough, 56, was taking anti-seizure as well as anti-psychotic medication, which might have caused his body to respond negatively and become more susceptible to extremely warm conditions. In addition, Murdough declined to open a vent located in his jail cell to allow cool air to enter freely.
Although more tests are still needed to determine his death, officials say that the initial suggestions from the autopsy and examination of the evidence point to a heat stroke or severe dehydration. An official who spoke with anonymity stated that Murdough basically “baked” in his cell until he passed away.
Supporters for inmates with mental illnesses in New York are infuriated with the city’s lack of effort in helping Murdough, which eventually led to his demise. They suggest that more could have been done to prevent Jerome Murdough, a former marine, from dying from heat in a prison cell. For example, instead of detaining him, officials might have found a program to assist with his mental disability. In addition, the bail was set at $2,500 which was not an amount a homeless person could afford in order to be released. Murdough should also have been supervised more closely to avert the situation that occurred. According to officials, because Murdough was stationed in the mental observation area, someone was supposed to check in on him every 15 minutes. It was not until four hours later that his body was discovered leaning over in his bed.
Mark Cranston, Department of Correction Acting Commissioner, stated on Wednesday that Murdough’s passing was “unfortunate,” and said that an investigation will take place in order to look into the performance of the staff and their procedures further. The commissioner also noted that the cell temperature where Murdough was housed was incredibly high, and that the mechanical problems have been fixed to guarantee safe temperature levels especially for inmates with mental illnesses or health issues.
Sadly, Alma Murdough, the ex-marine’s mother, did not learn about her son’s passing until she was contacted by Associated Press last week which was almost one month after his death. Alma stated that despite Jerome Murdough’s mental disabilities, which included bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, her son was a very caring, loving guy. She mentioned that his only vice was drinking.
Close family members said that Murdough joined the Marines directly after high school, where he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan for a bit. After he returned home, both his drinking problem and his mental illness had become more evident. He would frequently disappear for several months at a time living on the streets or sometimes staying in shelters or hospitals. His family mentioned that although he would leave for an indefinite amount of time, he would always return. Unfortunately, not this time.
One of Murdough’s sisters, Wanda Mehala, stated that she (and the rest of his family) want justice for what happened to her brother. The New York City Board of Correction, as well as the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project are delving deep into what should have been done to prevent Murdough’s death. Regrettably, it is too little too late. Jerome Murdough, former marine, died from heat in a prison cell and nothing can be done to turn back the hands of time.
By Amy Nelson