Pioneering Black Female Judge Took Own Life, NYC Medical Examiner’s Office Rules

Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was the first African-American woman to serve on the New York Court of Appeals. (AP Photo/Mike Groll, File)

After a months-long investigation, the New York City medical examiner’s office determined Wednesday, July 26, that the mysterious death of trailblazing justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Black woman to serve on the New York Court of Appeals, was a suicide.

The office concluded that Abdus-Salaam, 65, died as a result of drowning, the manner of which was suicide, The New York Times reported.

The ruling comes just months after the judge’s fully-clothed body was found floating along the shore of the Hudson River in April. In the days prior to her death, police said the judge called in sick and said she wouldn’t be coming into work. Her colleagues grew worried after Abdus-Salaam failed to show up the next day. Her assistant alerted her husband, who later reported his wife missing.

Unable to pin down any witnesses, the NYPD was forced to rely on surveillance footage of the judge in order to retrace her steps. Local station Pix 11 reported that Abdus-Salaam was last seen leaving her Harlem apartment on April 11 around 8:30 p.m. and walking several blocks north. A final video showed her at an elevated park near the Hudson River around 12:30 a.m. on April 12, authorities said.

Abdus-Salaam’s body was discovered over 12 hours later with no visible signs of trauma. Police initially called her death suspicious but later determined that it was likely a suicide. Authorities wrapped their investigation the following month.

News of Abdus-Salaam’s death came as a shock to those who described her as a “humble pioneer” and “trailblazing jurist.”

“To the extent that the challenges and the stresses in her life contributed to this, it’s a reminder that even the most accomplished people still deal with extraordinary challenges inward and we don’t get to see that,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said in April.

“It is humbling. It’s a sad day. Someone who got so far and was lost so soon.”


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