Rikers Island inmate 'baked to death' in cell, Family says

Sarah Wallace has the investigation.
March 19, 2014 3:22:27 PM PDT
Eyewitness News has talked to the family of a veteran who says he died in jail last month after the cell he was being held in was overheated more than 100 degrees.

The family of 56-year-old Jerome Murdough says he was being held on charges of tresspassing and was placed under observation at Rikers.

Murdough's sister Cheryl Warner spoke to Eyewitness News. "He's in a cell. He's supposed to be monitored. And he's dead? "I blame those who incarcerated him,' she said. "I don't care how far this investigation goes, it will never answer all of the questions I have."

Cheryl Warner didn't find out about the death of her brother until last week.

He died last month on Rikers Island. The family, who lives in the area, says they have yet to hear from City Correction officials about exactly how the mentally ill man died in a sweltering jail cell in a special observation unit.

"He's in a cell. He's supposed to be monitored, and he's dead," said Warner.

A spokesman says a preliminary investigation shows there were "unsually high temperatures in Mr. Murdough's cell," and it may have been due to malfunctioning equipment.

"If you know you got a faulty room you don't put nobody in it. It's a human being. I wouldn't put a dog in that situation," said Warner.

Murdough was a Marine veteran with a drinking problem who bounced around family apartments. His family says he suffered from mental illness but was harmless.

''He was not violent. Not to him, not to nobody else," said the victim's mother, Alma Murdough.

Murdough was picked up on a trespassing charge while sleeping in a stairwell of an Upper East side project. A week later, he was dead.

"I think they think everybody who is drunk is a bum and they take them to Rikers," said his mother.

("You think he should have been taken somewhere else") "Yeah."

The Department says it is looking into all of the circumstances of Murdough's death "including issues of staff performance and adequacy of procedures."

"I smell a rat, I smell a cover-up. I smell so much stuff. The only thing I can think of is, "you murdered him," said Warner. ("That's how you feel," we asked) "That's how I feel," she said.

The Corrections Department says it has taken remedial action to correct mechanical problems in all of its jails. The mayor has appointed a new commissioner who starts in April, and we're told he will be looking all aspects of the system.

Acting Correction Department Commissioner Mark Cranston says: "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."