Guard in hot cell death has record of leaving post

NEW YORK — A Rikers Island jail guard who investigators say left her post without permission as a mentally ill inmate lay dying in his 101-degree cell in February had been disciplined four years earlier for a similar infraction, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Carol Lackner was accused in 2010 of leaving her post and leaving Rikers Island entirely without permission while working in a women’s section of the jail, according to the documents obtained through a public records request.

That administrative charge was settled, her attorney says, when Lackner agreed to give up five vacation days. He said she was on a break when she left, which is nevertheless a policy violation.

More recently, Lackner was suspended for 30 days following the Feb. 15 death of 56-year-old Jerome Murdough. A city corrections investigation found she abandoned her post in a mental health observation unit 20 minutes before the homeless ex-Marine was discovered unresponsive in his overheated cell.

Murdough “basically baked to death” when he was left unchecked for at least four hours in a part of the jail that had a malfunctioning heater, a city official told the AP. While logbook entries indicate Lackner toured the area every half hour as required, she isn’t seen on video doing so, according to another city official. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss specifics of the case.

Lackner, 34, didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment. Her attorney, Damond Carter, denied accusations she left her post without permission. He said she was brought in as a relief guard after effectively working three straight shifts and wasn’t given any information about complaints of excessive heat, which she herself could feel.

“It’s unfair to lay everything at her foot,” said Carter, emphasizing that multiple factors contributed to Murdough’s death, including his being sent to Rikers in the first place after being unable to make $2,500 bail on a misdemeanor trespassing arrest.

A lawyer for Murdough’s mother, who is planning a $25 million lawsuit against the city, said in a statement that no other prisoners should “suffer and die at the hands of corrections officers who do not live up to their responsibilities.”

“Had the city properly supervised this officer, who had a history of abandoning her post, Jerome might still be alive,” Derek Sells said.

Murdough suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to his family. He was on psychotropic medication, which experts say can make people more sensitive to the heat. The medical examiner’s office says more tests are needed to determine exactly how he died, but an investigator said he appeared to have died from hyperthermia.

In addition to suspending Lackner over the Murdough case, corrections officials also reassigned a warden and transferred a mechanics supervisor.

The documents obtained by AP also show correction officials brought administrative charges against Lackner in 2011 for failing to report that she had been arrested. Lackner allegedly kicked in a wooden gate at a man’s Queens home, according to a criminal complaint. That case was settled with her pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, a noncriminal violation, and paying $1,100 in restitution. There was no administrative disposition of that case, her lawyer said.

Lackner met with corrections officials in 2012 but never faced a trial on the administrative charges. Personnel records of correction officers, including disciplinary matters, are confidential, a department spokesman said.

The deaths of Murdough and Bradley Ballard, another mentally ill inmate whose death five months before Murdough’s in a similar mental observation unit was reported by the AP last week, have raised questions about the city’s ability to properly care for the mentally ill, who represent a growing proportion of inmates.

More in Local News

Fatal car crash reported on Highway 92 near Lake Stevens

The 3 p.m. accident and investigation stopped traffic in both directions near Machias Road.

Mayor tries new tactic to curb fire department overtime

Stephanson says an engine won’t go into service when the only available staff would be on overtime.

Cheering families welcome Kidd, Shoup after 6 months at sea

“I get back Daddy back today,” said one homemade sign at Naval Station Everett.

Paine Field fire chief will be allowed to retire

In his letter, the airport director noted Jeff Bohnet was leaving while under investigation.

Stanwood man, 33, killed in crash near Marysville

Speed may have been a factor, the sheriff’s department said.

County plans to sue to recoup costs from ballot drop-box law

A quarter-million dollars could be spent adding 19 ballot boxes in rural areas.

Firefighters come to the rescue and give mom new stroller

Donations to the Good Neighbor Program covered the $143.20 cost.

County frees up $1.6M for Everett’s low-barrier housing

The plan appears on track for the City Council to transfer land ahead of next month’s groundbreaking.

Jamie Copeland is a senior at Cedar Park Christian Schools’ Mountlake Terrace campus. She is a basketball player, ASB president, cheerleader and, of course, a Lion. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Cedar Park Christian senior stepping up to new challenges

Jamie Copeland’s academics include STEM studies, leadership, ASB activities, honor society.

Most Read