DOJ watchdog launches probe into death of inmate pepper sprayed by guards

DOJ watchdog launches probe into death of inmate pepper sprayed by guards
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Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Thursday launched a probe into the death of a New York inmate after he was pepper sprayed and removed from his cell.

Horowitz said in a statement that his office was investigating the Wednesday death of 35-year-old Jamel Floyd at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He said the inspector general’s office will work with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), “which initially responded to the incident according to standard protocol.”

“Consistent with DOJ OIG and Department of Justice policy, we will be unable to provide further information until the investigation is complete, at which time we will publicly disclose our findings to the greatest extent possible, consistent with applicable laws,” Horowitz said in the statement. 

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The inspector general announced the investigation one day after the Bureau of Prisons said in a statement that staff responded to “an inmate being disruptive" in an incident that ended in Floyd's death.

“Responding staff observed inmate Jamel Floyd barricaded inside his cell and breaking the cell door window with a metal object,” the statement reads. “He became increasingly disruptive and potentially harmful to himself and others. Pepper spray was deployed and staff removed him from his cell.”

The federal detention center’s staff “immediately” responded to the “unresponsive” Floyd with “life-saving measures.” The staff requested Emergency Medical Services, and Floyd was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The statement indicated that the incident was under investigation, and the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service were notified.

The BOP said in its statement that the death did not appear to be coronavirus-related. Floyd had been an inmate at Metropolitan Detention Center since October 2019. 

Floyd’s mother told The New York Daily News that her son suffered from asthma and diabetes, and prison officials were aware of his health conditions. 

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“He died because of the mace,” she said. “You do not mace an asthmatic.”

“They maced my son,” she added. “They murdered my son."

Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), whose district includes the federal detention center, called for the center to maintain “all security video footage of Mr. Floyd’s unit for review.” 

“My office will be following up, but the reality is this: change at #MDCBrooklyn is long overdue,” she tweeted. “Whether it is a loss of heat in the dead of winter, inadequate protections against the spread of COVID-19 or this most recent incident, it has become evident this institution is too often unsafe.”

The Metropolitan Detention Center has undergone scrutiny for its treatment of inmates in the past, including a weeklong power outage in January 2019. 

The center also had the first inmate in the federal prison system to test positive for coronavirus this past March.

Jamel Floyd’s death comes as protests in cities across the country have erupted over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died during an arrest by Minneapolis police last week.

Federal jails went into a nationwide lockdown following protests and violence that has taken place over the past week.