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Mentally ill veteran’s mother sues Rikers Island prison over his death in ‘sweltering’ cell

By Reuters
Friday, May 16, 2014 19:18 EDT
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By Curtis Skinner

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The mother of a New York City inmate who died earlier this year after spending hours in what she said was a sweltering prison cell is seeking $25 million in damages, her attorneys said on Friday.

Jerome Murdough, 56, a former Marine who was homeless and suffered from schizophrenia, was found dead in February inside his cell at Rikers Island, the city’s main jail complex. He had been arrested for trespassing.

Derek Sells, the attorney for Jerome’s mother, Alma Murdough, said the inmate’s body was found in a pool of vomit and blood. The room was so hot, Sells said, that three hours after Murdough’s body had been removed, his internal temperature was still 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.5 degrees Celsius).

City officials have not commented on the temperature in the cell.

“This case involves a tragic incident and we will review the lawsuit and respond accordingly,” said a spokeswoman for the New York City Law Department.

The day before Murdough’s death, two work orders were filed citing excessive heat in his cell, said Sells. He added that the inmate was on psychotropic medication and, therefore, more susceptible to overheating.

“The picture I saw of him with his mouth open gives me the impression that he was hollering for help and no one came,” Alma Murdough told reporters at a press conference. “And that really tears me up. I think about it every day.”

Following Murdough’s death, the Rikers Island warden heading the mental health unit was demoted and moved to a different area, and the officer responsible for supervising the area was suspended, the Department of Correction said last month.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Gunna Dickson)

[Image: Barbed wire fences surround a building on Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York on Dec. 24, 2013. By Lucas Jackson for Reuters]

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