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Family of Judge Found Dead in River Asks Public To 'Step Forward' With Info

By Dartunorro Clark | April 19, 2017 6:23pm
 Witnesses discovered the body of Abdus-Salaam, 65, near West 132nd Street and Henry Hudson Parkway and contacted police, police said.
Witnesses discovered the body of Abdus-Salaam, 65, near West 132nd Street and Henry Hudson Parkway and contacted police, police said.
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Flickr/State Court of Appeals

HARLEM — The husband of the pioneering state judge found dead in the Hudson River last week is pleading with the public to help solve the mystery surrounding her death, lashing out at reports suggesting she struggled with mental health issues and took her own life.

The death of Judge Abdus-Salaam has been deemed "suspicious" by investigators, NYPD officials said Wednesday, after initial reports citing anonymous law enforcement officials stated police were treating her death as a suicide

Her husband, Rev. Canon Gregory A. Jacobs, vigorously criticized those reports in his statement, saying "they have no basis in reality." 

"These 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.

"Those of us who loved Sheila and knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality. And in the absence of any conclusive evidence, we believe such speculations to be unwarranted and irresponsible."

Abdus-Salaam, the first African-American woman to sit on New York state's highest courtwas found in the Hudson River near West 132nd Street about 1:45 p.m. on April 12, police said.

At the time, NYPD officials said her body had no signs of trauma and that they didn't suspect any foul play.

On Wednesday, the NYPD referred to the judge's death as "suspicious" because investigators can't explain how she wound up in the water.

"When a body is found floating in a river, it is deemed suspicious in nature," an NYPD spokesman said.

"I now join with the NYPD in asking anyone in the neighborhood to step forward with any information that might help us determine what may have happened during those hours before her death," Jacobs said in his statement.

He added that public officials and the media should refrain from "any baseless commentary and conjecture concerning the circumstances surrounding the death of our beloved Sheila."

Her family also pushed back against narratives concerning the judge's life. 

Abdus-Salaam, whose maiden name is Turner, was identified as Muslim by many public officials and news outlets. However, she continued to use her first husband's name professionally and "has not been a practicing Muslim for the past 20 years," the Turner family said in its own statement, also released Wednesday.

The family also denied reports that her mother and brother previously committed suicide.

"Sheila’s mother, the matriarch of our family who died at age 92 in 2012, did not take her own life. Shelia’s younger brother, who died in 2014, lost his battle with terminal lung cancer," the family said.

The city's Medical Examiner office has yet to release any information on the cause of death and did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.