While I was reading and watching news coverage of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, I found myself thinking about the deaths of three prisoners who had severe mentally illnesses.
*Jerome Murdough, a 56 year-old former Marine with schizophrenia, died in his Rikers Island jail cell in New York after he was arrested for sleeping in a stairwell to avoid inclement weather. Temperatures in his cell exceeded more than a 100 degrees and, as one city official later put it, Murdough “literally baked to death.” The officers watching him were supposed to be periodically checking on him, but didn’t.
*Darren Rainey, age 50, was locked in a shower stall with steam and scalding water for more than an hour as punishment by correctional officers in Florida after he defecated in his cell and refused to clean it up. His screams for help were ignored and when his lifeless body was removed from the stall, his skin showed signs of “slippage,” which happens when badly burned flesh literally begins falling off. Rainey had a mental illness and was serving time for cocaine possession.
*Christopher Lopez, age 35, died from severe hyponatremia, a condition that develops when a person’s sodium levels fall fatally low. It’s been suggested that Lopez had been given too much psychotropic medication, which caused his body to begin shutting down. According to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by his family, several guards, nurses, and a mental health clinician stood outside Lopez’s cell, where he was lying manacled on the floor, talking casually and laughing while he suffered a series of seizures. He had schizophrenia.