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"This is a very awful thing that I am going through. I hope that nobody else will have to ever go through nothing like this,"
When Alma Murdough launched a lawsuit against the City of New York over the death of her son, she knew that the litigation process would be long and gruelling. Jerome Murdough, a 57-year-old former Marine with a history of mental health problems, had died in custody at New York's Riker's Island. The homeless Murdough had been arrested for trespassing last winter after a police officer found him trespassing in the stairwell of a housing project where he had reportedly been trying to stay warm. Unable to pay the $2500 set for bail bail, Murdough was placed in a mental health unit in the prison complex.
On February 15, just days after being admitted, he was found in his cell lying in a pool of blood and vomit with an internal temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the subsequent investigation, broken heating equipment caused the cell temperature to rise to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit leading to Murdough being "baked to death". The medical examiner determined that the cause of death was hyperthermia which was aggravated by the medication that Murdough was taking for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. A lawsuit was filed by Murdough's family citing negligence on the part of the prison since he had not been checked on for more than four hours prior to his body being found.
According to the Murdough family attorney,Derek Sells, Jerome Murdough had been given "the death penalty, simply for being arrested for trespassing. He never got an opportunity for his day in court, to challenge the charges that brought him to Rikers Island, all because of the failure of the guards who did not perform the duties which they were entrusted."
In an agreement settlement reached with the city, City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced that Alma Murdough had agreed to a $2.25 million dollar pre-litigation settlement. “Following a thorough review of the claim and facts of this case, my office has reached a settlement with the estate of Jerome Murdough." City Comptroller Scott Stringer said. “A mother lost a son, the city lost a citizen. It is my hope that this settlement provides some small measure of closure for the family of Mr. Murdough. The expedited resolution of this case is in the best interest of all parties.”
Derek Sells expressed satisfaction with the size of the settlement and stated that it was similar to what a jury might find reasonable and avoids a prolonged court battle. "It would be years and years of litigation," he said. "The victims of that tragedy suffer throughout." Despite the settlement, the city is avoiding any admission of liability and the Murdough family will not be able to launch any future lawsuits over the death.
Jerome Murdough's death along with the death of another mentally ill inmate who had been locked in his cell alone for seven days has prompted calls for better mental health care in prison. City Council meetings to discuss prison reform are ongoing.
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