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Rikers Warden Demoted, Transferred After Man’s Death In Overheated Cell

Jerome Murdough (CBS 2)

Jerome Murdough (CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The warden of a facility at Rikers Island has been demoted and transferred, following the death of a mentally ill inmate who was found in a cell that had overheated to at least 100 degrees.

Department of Correction officials said Thursday that warden Rose Argo, of the Anna M. Kross Center inmate facility at Rikers Island, was being transferred from the 2,100-inmate facility where former Marine Jerome Murdough, 56, was housed in a mental observation unit.

She will be moved to supervise another facility that does not hold mentally ill inmates, the department said.

“While there is no indication that Warden Agro was directly involved or negligent with regard to Mr. Murdough, it does appear that staff did not follow basic procedures, which may indicate systemic management problems,” department spokesman Eldin Villafane said in a news release.

The department said a supervisor in charge of monitoring the heating system at the prison also was transferred, and “will no longer work on projects related to inmate housing areas.”

Meanwhile, an already-suspended correction officer on post when Murdough died has been suspended another 10 days without pay — the maximum amount allowed under city law.

Four city officials told the AP that Murdough, who was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, was found dead in the early hours of Feb. 15 in a cell that had overheated, apparently by malfunctioning equipment. He also did not open a small vent in his cell, as other inmates did, to let in cool air, they said.

One of the officials, who all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss specifics of the case, said Murdough “basically baked to death.”

According to the city officials, Murdough was locked alone into his 6-by-10 cinderblock cell at about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 14 — a week after his arrest. Because he was in the mental observation unit, he was supposed to be checked every 15 minutes as part of suicide watch, they said. But Murdough was not discovered until four hours later, at about 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 15. He was slumped over in his bed and already dead.

The New York City Medical Examiner’s office said that an autopsy was inconclusive and that more tests were needed to determine Murdough’s exact cause of death. But the officials, all with detailed knowledge of the case, say initial indications from the autopsy and investigation point to extreme dehydration or heat stroke.

Murdough, who the Marine Corps said Thursday was discharged as a private first class who served from 1975 to 1978 as a field artillery batteryman, was arrested Feb. 7 on a misdemeanor trespassing charge for sleeping in an enclosed stairwell on the roof of a public housing building in Harlem. He was sent to Rikers after being unable to post a $2,500 bail, court records show.

Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incident “very troubling” in remarks last month.

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