Of the 12,000 inmates who make up the nation's second-largest jail system, about 40 percent are mentally ill, and a third of them suffer from serious mental problems, the department said. Advocates and others have long argued that correction officers are not sufficiently trained to deal with mentally ill inmates whose needs are complex.
That's a point Norman Seabrook, head of the city's powerful 9,000-member correction officers' union, also made Thursday.
"It's unfortunate because we're not trained enough to deal with that," he said of mentally ill inmates.
Seabrook said Murdough didn't appear to be in distress the night he died and said a correction officer was "making periodic rounds" in the two-tier housing area where he was jailed.
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.