New York jail probing death of inmate in unusually hot cell

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 19, 2014 6:10 PM

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The death of a mentally ill, homeless man who was being held in a New York City jail cell is under investigation, and there are indications that the cell was overheated, the city's Department of Correction said on Wednesday.

Jerome Murdough, 56, was found dead in his cell at Rikers Island, the city's main jail complex, on February 15, according to Ivan Vogel, the public defender handling his case. Vogel said jail officials told him of Murdough's death three days after it happened.

The Department of Correction said in a statement that it immediately began investigating Murdough's 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 statement said.

Murdough was arrested in early February and charged with criminal trespass after he was found resting in a stairwell in a Manhattan public housing project, Vogel said, who described Murdough as mentally ill. Murdough was unable to post bail, which a judge had set at $2,500.

The office of the city's chief medical examiner has not reached a final ruling on the cause of his death, according to officials. The medical examiner's office did not respond to questions about Murdough's death on Wednesday.

The circumstances of Murdough's death were first reported on Wednesday by the Associated Press, which said that Murdough's cell had overheated to at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) because of apparently malfunctioning equipment, and that Murdough, unlike other inmates, did not open a vent in his cell to let in cool air.

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A spokesman for the Department of Correction declined to comment on those details. The department said it did find several other cells nearby that were over 80 F (27 C) on the day Murdough died and that several unspecified adjustments have since been made to the heating system.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Adler)