4. Inmates were ‘baked to death,’ gassed to death, and scalded to death in American jails and prisons.
Marine veteran Jerome Murdough had been dead for four hours when jail guards discovered him in his cell, dehydrated and overheated, in a solitary mental observation unit that was supposed to be monitored every 15 minutes. An anonymous official said Murdough, who was being held after he couldn’t afford bail over a trespassing arrest, “baked to death.” Darren Rainey was scalded to death in a 160-degree shower imposed on him as a punishment in his Miami-Dade county jail cell. Randall Jordan-Aparo was found “coated in yellow residue, his face was pressed up against the bottom of the steel door and a Bible was next to his head,” as the Miami Herald described it, after having been sprayed with gas by guards and left to suffocate without medical intervention in a Florida prison.
These are just some of the worst of the deaths and mistreatment at law enforcement hands in 2014. Each of these individuals suffered from mental illness, in a system of rampant incarceration that is increasingly serving as a de facto asylum for many. The Florida cases are still under investigation, while the guard in the Rikers Island case was arrested just this month, was released on bail, unlike Murdough. This week, federal authorities filed a lawsuit against Rikers Island for over its violent and intimidating treatment of teens in the jail, where the majority of inmates have been charged but not yet even convicted of a crime. A federal bill awaiting President Obama’s signature would require states to report not just deaths at law enforcement hands, but also those in jails and prisons.