A mentally ill homeless man and Marine veteran was found dead in his Rikers Island jail cell, where he apparently succumbed to the 100 degree temperature generated by malfunctioning equipment.
The homeless man, 56-year-old Jerome Murdough, was arrested for trespassing after he spent the night sleeping inside the stairwell of a Harlem housing project. He was taking anti-psychotic medicine, which may have made him more susceptible to extreme heat, according to the Associated Press.
After an equipment malfunction, the temperature in his cell rose to 100 degrees. While the exact cause of death has not yet been released, anonymous officials said the heat was clearly to blame.
“He basically baked to death,” said an anonymous jail official.
Humanitarian advocates say the jail made several mistakes in its treatment of Murdough, who was allegedly being held in a special wing for mentally ill inmates. Jail personnel are supposed to check on potentially suicidal inmates every 15 minutes, but Murdough was dead for four hours before anyone noticed him.
His bail was set prohibitively high for a homeless man guilty of a trivial offense, and efforts should have been made to find his family, who had not seen him in three years, advocates said.
“He was a very lovely, caring guy,” said Alma Murdough, Jerome’s mother, in a statement. “He had beer problems. Drinking beer. That was his downfall. Other than that, he was a very nice guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”
Murdough joined the Marine Corps after finishing high school, and served one stint in Okinawa, Japan.
The New York Department of Correction is investigating his death.