A mentally ill homeless veteran “baked to death” inside a Rikers Island jail cell after it heated up to at least 100 degrees.
Jerome Murdogh, 56, was looking for a warm place to sleep last month when he was arrested for trespassing in a Harlem public housing project.
A week later he died in Rikers Island after equipment allegedly malfunctioned and overheated his cell.
‘‘He basically baked to death,’’ an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press.
Prison policy says prisoners in the mental-observation unit are to be checked by staff every 15 minutes, as part of suicide prevention. Murdough died at 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 14, but his body wasn't found until four hours later at 2:30 a.m.
The former Marine was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, which may have made him more vulnerable to heat. A vent in his cell which would have let in cool air was also closed.
An autopsy performed by the medical examiners was inconclusive. More tests are required to determine an exact cause of death. Officials say initial indications from the autopsy point to heat stroke or extreme dehydration. His internal body temperature and the temperature inside the cell were at least 100 degrees.
Mental health advocates say the justice system should have helped Murdough find housing instead of incarcerating him. His bail was set at $2,500 and he was not supervised closely, although he was put in a unit designated specifically for observation.
Department of Correction spokesman Robin Campbell said an internal investigation of the death is underway and will review ‘‘issues of staff performance and the adequacy of procedures.’’
‘‘He was a very lovely, caring guy,’’ said Murdough’s mother, 75-year-old Alma Murdough.
She told the AP she had no idea her son had died before they contacted her, a month afterwards. She said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and that she hadn’t seen him in about three years.
‘‘He had beer problems,” she said. “Drinking beer. That was his downfall. Other than that, he was a very nice guy. He'd give you the shirt off his back.’’
His family said his mental health and drinking problems started when he returned from the service.
‘‘When he wanted to venture off, we let him, we allowed him to come and go,’’ said his sister, Cheryl Warner. ‘‘He always came back.’’