NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A correction officer who prosecutors said skipped her rounds, leaving a mentally ill inmate to die in a stifling 101-degree jail cell, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to falsifying logbook entries to try to cover it up.
Carol Lackner pleaded guilty to a felony charge of falsifying business records in state Supreme Court in the Bronx and was sentenced to five years of probation.
She falsely indicated that she had checked on Jerome Murdough, 56, a homeless ex-Marine, and other inmates at the Rikers Island jail complex every half-hour on Feb. 14, 2014, even though video didn’t show her doing so, prosecutors said.
The Associated Press first reported on the death of Murdough, who was left unchecked for at least four hours overnight as malfunctioning equipment caused his cell to overheat. A city official, speaking to the AP on the condition of anonymity, said Murdough “basically baked to death.”
An investigation found Lackner had left her post about 20 minutes before the 56-year-old Murdough was found in a pool of his own blood and vomit in the Rikers unit for mentally ill inmates. He had an internal body temperature of 103 degrees.
Murdough, who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, was on psychotropic drugs, which experts said can make a person more sensitive to heat.
The New York City Medical Examiner’s office ruled that Murdough’s death was caused by hyperthermia due to environmental exposure to heat. His medication also played a role. The death was ruled accidental.
Murdough’s mother agreed to a $2.25 million settlement with the city.
Lackner’s attorney, Damond Carter, had argued after her arrest that she performed visual tours, not walking tours, which he called an accepted departmental practice. Carter did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.
City Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said Lackner “ignored her responsibilities as a correction officer, failing to perform the required checks and leaving her shift prematurely while an inmate under her watch died in his cell.”
Documents obtained by the AP showed Lackner had been disciplined by jail officials four years before Murdough’s death for abandoning her post and leaving the sprawling jail complex.
A series of AP stories has detailed questionable medical care and suicides that might have been prevented but for missteps including the improper distribution of medication.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the Rikers complex, which houses most of the city’s 10,000 inmates, is dangerous and should be replaced. But Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has insisted that progress is being made to reform Rikers, said that while the call to close the 400-acre island on the East River is “noble” it would raise major financial and logistical issues.
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