Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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April 4, 2014

NY warden reassigned in inmate's death in hot cell

NEW YORK (AP) — The warden of the 2,100-inmate New York City jail where a homeless, mentally ill veteran "baked to death" in an overheated cell in February has been demoted and transferred to another unit that doesn't house mentally ill inmates.

Rose Argo, the warden of the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island, didn't appear to be directly involved or negligent in the death of 56-year-old former Marine Jerome Murdough, but Department of Correction officials said in a statement Thursday that "it does appear that staff did not follow basic procedures."

An internal investigation also found "overall issues" with the heating system in the jail, the statement said, and the mechanics supervisor there was transferred to a unit that works on projects where no inmates are housed.

An already-suspended correction officer on post when Murdough died also has been suspended another 10 days without pay, amounting to 30 total days, the maximum allowed under city law, the officials said.

"The department is taking steps to address the breakdown of inadequate procedures, staff performance, and maintenance, to ensure that tragedies such as this never happen again," the statement said.

Murdough was found dead in a cell that four officials told The Associated Press was at least 100 degrees. He'd been locked in his cell in the mental observation unit about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 14 but wasn't discovered until four hours later, on Feb. 15, they said. Murdough's family said he suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and he was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication, the officials said.

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

More tests are needed to determine exactly how he died, the medical examiner's office said. But the officials, all with detailed knowledge of the case, said preliminary findings point to extreme dehydration. Exposure to high heat for people who are on psychotropic drugs can be fatal, experts said.

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