The death of Sheila Abdus-Salaam — who was the first female black judge on New York state’s highest court — has been called “suspicious” but apparently still non-criminal by New York City police, according to reports.
The pioneering judge’s body was discovered just before 2 p.m. on April 12 washed up on the Hudson River’s shore near Harlem in N.Y.C., after she was reported missing by her husband. She was 65.
Her body showed no signs of trauma or obvious wrongdoing.
“We’re looking at it as a suspicious death at this point,” police spokesman Stephen Davis said, according to ABC 7 and the New York Post. “We haven’t found any clear indications of criminality, but at this point we can’t say for sure. We’re hoping if anyone could shed any light into the hours before her disappearance, it would help us establish what happened.”
In a statement, police said Abdus-Salaam’s death appeared non-criminal, according to ABC News.
But, as police Sgt. Brendan Ryan explained to the network, “We have a middle-aged woman deceased in the water with all her clothes on with no signs of homicide or suicide.”
“When a body is found floating in a river, it is deemed suspicious in nature,” he continued.
Police had treated the judge’s death as a possible suicide in the immediate aftermath of her body’s discovery, according to the New York Times. The paper reported that Abdus-Salaam told people she was dealing with stress, and two of her immediate family members had killed themselves in recent years — both on or around Easter Sunday.
The New York Police Department’s 26th Precinct tweeted an “Information Needed” notice on Tuesday, asking for anyone who knew something to come forward.
Police are working to determine Abdus-Salaam’s exact manner of death, according to CBS New York, and the medical examiner is reportedly planning to perform an autopsy, as is standard in such cases.
— NYPD 26th Precinct (@NYPD26Pct) April 18, 2017
Police say Abdus-Salaam, who reportedly joined the state’s Court of Appeals in 2013, was last seen wearing a charcoal gray zip-up sweatshirt with “Canada” in red letters across the chest.
She was also wearing black sweatpants, white ankle socks and New Balance sneakers.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement last week that Abdus-Salaam was a pioneer with an “unshakable moral compass.”
N.Y.C. Mayor Bill de Blasio also paid tribute to the justice in a tweet, writing, “Deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Sheila Abdus-Salaam. She was a humble pioneer.”
Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist and a force for good.
On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies. https://t.co/hnic07Shp1
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 12, 2017
Deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Sheila Abdus-Salaam. She was a humble pioneer. My thoughts are with her family.
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 13, 2017
Abdus-Salaam grew up in Washington, one of seven children, and earned her law degree from Columbia University in 1977, the New York Times reported.
She became a public defender in Brooklyn and represented people who could not afford lawyers, then served as an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York Attorney General’s Office.