Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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May 29, 2014

Guard in hot cell death has record of leaving post

NEW YORK (AP) — A Rikers Island jail guard who investigators say left her post without permission as a mentally ill inmate lay dying in his 101-degree cell in February had been disciplined four years earlier for a similar infraction, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Carol Lackner was accused in 2010 of leaving her post and leaving Rikers Island entirely without permission while working in a women's section of the jail, according to the documents obtained through a public records request.

That administrative charge was settled, her attorney says, when Lackner agreed to give up five vacation days. He said she was on a break when she left, which is nevertheless a policy violation.

More recently, Lackner was suspended for 30 days following the Feb. 15 death of 56-year-old Jerome Murdough. A city corrections investigation found she abandoned her post in a mental health observation unit 20 minutes before the homeless ex-Marine was discovered unresponsive in his overheated cell.

Murdough "basically baked to death" when he was left unchecked for at least four hours in a part of the jail that had a malfunctioning heater, a city official told the AP. While logbook entries indicate Lackner toured the area every half hour as required, she isn't seen on video doing so, according to another city official. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss specifics of the case.

Lackner, 34, didn't respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Her attorney, Damond Carter, denied accusations she left her post without permission. He said she was brought in as a relief guard after effectively working three straight shifts and wasn't given any information about complaints of excessive heat, which she herself could feel.

"It's unfair to lay everything at her foot," said Carter, emphasizing that multiple factors contributed to Murdough's death, including his being sent to Rikers in the first place after being unable to make $2,500 bail on a misdemeanor trespassing arrest.

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