Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam’s cause of death ruled a suicide.
Boyce said the New York Police Department completed its investigation into the judge’s cause of death on Wednesday, May 3rd. A thorough investigation was undertaken, and investigators tracked down and looked into all leads, finding no criminality. Boyce indicated the woman’s death likely was a suicide. All evidence was turned over to the medical examiner who will need to make the final determination regarding cause of death.
“We gave all her evidence to the (Examiner),” Boyce said. “At some point, the Chief Medical Examiner will provide a cause of death or a statement in regards to that.” A spokesperson told the New York Law Journal that any time a body is found floating in a river, the death is initially treated as suspicious in nature. However, in this case, there were no visible signs of trauma or foul play on Abdus-Salaam’s body. A previous autopsy was inconclusive.
The immediate assumption of investigators when the woman was found was that Abdus-Salaam had committed suicide, but her husband, Gregory Jacobs, and other family members pushed back on the department, in disbelief that she would do that. They did say at the time the judge had been struggling with depression.
Jacobs, an Episcopal priest, issued a statement following his wife’s disappearance addressing the assumptions of suicide. “Reports have frequently included unsubstantiated comments concerning my wife’s possible mental and emotional state of mind at the time of her death. Those of us who loved Sheila and knew her well do not believe that these unfounded conclusions have any basis in reality,” he said in an earlier interview. Abdus-Salaam’s family said reports that Abdus-Salaam’s mother and brother had committed suicide were also not true. Abdus-Salaam’s mother lived a long, full life, passing at the age of 92, and her brother had terminal lung cancer.
Early reports had said Abdus-Salaam was the first female Muslim judge in the United States. However, a statement from the family indicated that Abdus-Salaam had not been a practicing Muslim for the past 20 years. She became a lower court judge in 1994. She went on to become a judge on an intermediate appeals court before she joined the state’s top court in 2013.
“As the first African-American woman to be appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals, she was a pioneer,” New York Governor Andrew 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.”