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March 27, 2014
Arresting the Homeless

by George T. McDonald

To the Editor:

Re “Correction Dept. Investigating Death of Inmate at Rikers” (news article, March 20):

The death of Jerome Murdough while in custody on Rikers Island last month was both shocking and contemptible. It’s important that New York City correction officials are investigating the circumstances of his death, and in particular the “unusually high temperatures” in his cell.

But it is equally important that every element of his arrest and incarceration be examined. Mr. Murdough, a 56-year-old former Marine, was homeless and suffered from mental illness. The police found him sleeping in the stairwell of an East Harlem housing project on a freezing night in early February.

In a truly empathetic society, the police officers would not have arrested him; instead, they would have placed him in a shelter to get him out of the cold. And then case managers would have found for him a therapeutic residential program in which his mental health issues could be addressed.

In fact, the city has long required officers and social service workers to find shelter for the homeless when the temperatures fall below freezing and the homeless are found out on the streets or in other vulnerable situations. The low temperature was 24 degrees on the night of his arrest.

It’s an outrage that Mr. Murdough was arrested, that a judge set $2,500 in bail for him and that he was sent to Rikers Island, where, without proper oversight, he was apparently allowed to collapse and die in an overheated cell.

President, The Doe Fund
New York, March 24, 2014







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