Officials at Rikers Island had requested that the heating problem be fixed before 56-year-old James Murdough "baked to death" in his cell back in February, but the repairs weren't started until after he died. According to emails obtained by the AP, work orders for "too much heat" in the cells of Murdough and others were sent in on Friday, February 14, but weren't received until the following Tuesday, because repairs aren't made on weekends and Monday was President's Day, a federal holiday.
Crucially, a correction officer assigned to observe the inmates in the mental observation unit where Murdough was jailed left her post at 2:30 a.m. A different officer found him at 2:50 a.m., unresponsive and slumped over at the edge of his bed near "a pool of vomit and blood on the floor," according to DOC records. Murdough's cell was 101 degrees, and his internal body temperature, taken four hours after he was found, was 103 degrees. The exact cause of death hasn't been determined yet but officials suspect hyperthermia.
Another guard who is supposed to check on inmates in the mental unit every 15 minutes wasn't assigned to Murdough's cell block, DOC officials said.
Murdough, a former Marine, was arrested for trespassing after police found him sleeping in a Harlem stairwell, and suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He was taking psychotropic medication at the time, which doctors say can make the patient more susceptible to heat. Murdough's intake form stated that he felt "hopeless," was suicidal, and needed "constant supervision."
"To learn that Jerome Murdough died as a result of the city's failure to remove him from a dangerous environment shows how senseless and avoidable his death was," the family's attorney told the AP. "Alma Murdough, Jerome's mother, is beside herself at this news of how the city failed her son and wants to hold those responsible for his death accountable."
Mayor de Blasio recently appointed Joseph Ponte as the Commissioner of the Correction Department. Ponte, who is known for reforming prisons in Maine and Memphis, will have to deal with skyrocketing violence and a "culture of indifference" on the part of the Correction Officers, who are led by a union that vehemently opposes Ponte.
Shortly after he was appointed, Ponte visited the cell block where Murdough died. “I wanted to see it for myself,” he told the Times.