When the body of Associate Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found floating in the Hudson River on April 12, her death was initially ruled a suicide.
Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam’s death raises questions
There didn’t appear to be any signs of trauma, she was fully clothed and there were no obvious signs that Abdus-Salaam, the first African-American to be appointed to New York’s Court of Appeals, had been the victim of foul play.
Reports had also circulated that her family had a history of suicide. Some claimed her 92-year-old mother had committed suicide in 2012, and that her brother had done so two years later, The Los Angeles Times reports.
But family members, including the victim’s husband, Gregory Jacobs, an Episcopal priest, disputed reports that the justice took her own life. In a statement, the family notes that justice Abdul-Salaam’s mother didn’t commit suicide, and her brother, who died in 2014, lost his battle to lung cancer.
“Reports have frequently included unsubstantiated comments concerning my wife’s possible mental and emotional state of mind at the time of her death,” he said in an additional statement Wednesday. “Those of us who loved Sheila and knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality.”
New York police have assigned a special team of investigators to the case, which is now being treated as suspicious. Last week, police put out a poster seeking information:
— NYPD 26th Precinct (@NYPD26Pct) April 18, 2017
Here’s what police do know:
Abdus-Salaam, 65, went for an evening walk by herself, locking the door of her brownstone home in Harlem, leaving her wallet and phone inside.
She didn’t go to work that day, having called in sick. In surveillance videos she can be seen walking alone briskly, wearing sweat pants and white sneakers, as though she might be exercising.
Abdul-Salaam was still walking in the last video that was captured shortly after midnight. Her body was found the next afternoon, near the edge of the river, in an area that is frequented by bicyclists and joggers. She was still dressed in the same clothes, The Los Angeles Times reports.
This video shows the justice walking alone that night:
NY1 has obtained exclusive video of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam walking alone the night she went missing. pic.twitter.com/MYa3ssEJuM
— Spectrum News NY1 (@NY1) April 21, 2017
The New York medical examiner’s office hasn’t made an official determination as to what caused her death, npr reports.
The death of this well-loved and intelligent woman is especially tragic when you consider that there are few African-American jurists. There is, in fact, very little racial or gender diversity in the nation’s courts, The Center for American Progress Reports.
Known as the Gavel Gap, research shows that people of color make up 40 percent of the U.S. population, but only 20 percent of state judges. The center reports that while white men make up less than one-third of the population, yet they still comprise 58 percent of state court judges.
That’s why Abdus-Salaam’s death, and the death of another African-American justice makes all of us that much poorer.
Judge Raymond Myles was fatally shot outside his Illinois home early in the morning of Monday, April 10, ABC News reports.
There has been an arrest in this case, however. Joshua Smith has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and obstruction of justice, Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples said during a press conference. Smith was previously convicted of armed robbery in 2003 and served a six-year sentence.
Staples said that Myles was the victim of a “targeted robbery.” And upon investigation it was revealed that the shell casings used to kill Myles came from the same gun used in a January armed robbery in which Myles was shot non-fatally. As it stands, there’s no indication that the incidents are connected, but it highlights the problem Chicago faces with illegal guns being used “over and over to cause havoc” in the community, she noted.
Myles’s colleagues remember him for his principled respect for the law.
In a statement, Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans said in a statement:
“I have always known judge Myles to be focused and determined in the pursuit of justice, and his conduct earned him the confidence and respect of the people who appeared before him.”
“All of our colleagues at the Leighton Criminal Court Building will miss Judge Myles, who they came to know for his kindness and impartial administration of justice,” Evans said.
Abdus-Salaam was educated at Barnard College and Columbia University and held a long career as a public defender and lower-court judge. In 2013, she became the first African-American woman in New York’s Court of Appeals. In the summer of 2016, she wrote what’s considered to be a landmark decision, awarding granting a non-biological parent in a gay couple visitation rights.
We have lost two excellent people who have done so much for this country. And that is a real tragedy.
You can watch this remarkable woman in the video below.
Screencap courtesy of Project Brownstone/YouTube
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