Police detectives retracing the final hours of a pioneering judge who turned up dead in the Hudson River in Manhattan have found no signs of foul play, supporting the belief it was a suicide, some law enforcement officials said Thursday.
Speaking to reporters about the death of Sheila Abdus-Salaam, New York Police Department Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce declined to answer questions about whether she took her own life. But two other law enforcement officials said Thursday that investigators were treating the death as a suicide. One of the officials said both the judge’s mother and brother had died in recent years around Easter, the brother by suicide.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation hasn’t been completed. Meanwhile, results of an autopsy conducted Thursday were inconclusive. ”The cause and manner of death are pending further studies following today’s examination,” Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the city’s medical examiner, said in a statement.
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The 65-year-old Abdus-Salaam, the first black woman on New York state’s highest court, had spent the weekend with her husband at their New Jersey home, Boyce said. She had her last conversation with her husband by phone around 7 p.m. Monday after she had gone to a second home in Harlem, and also spoke with her assistant on Tuesday, he said.
After the judge was reported missing, the New York City police harbor unit responding to a 911 call retrieved her clothed body from the Hudson on Wednesday. A Metrocard found on the body was last used at a subway stop on 42nd Street in Manhattan on Monday, Boyce said.
”There are no apparent injuries to her body,” he said. ”It appears to be non-criminal at this point.” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appointed Abdus-Salaam to the state’s Court of Appeals in 2013, called her a ”trailblazing jurist.”
”As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” Cuomo said. ”Through her writings, her wisdom and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come.”
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said her colleague will be ”missed deeply.” Abdus-Salaam graduated from Barnard College and received her law degree from Columbia Law School.
She started her career as a staff attorney for East Brooklyn Legal Services. She served as a judge on the Manhattan state Supreme Court for 14 years.