A day after a group of people were pepper-sprayed while protesting the inhumane conditions inside a federal jail in Brooklyn, public defenders have sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the jail's warden, Herman Quay, alleging that they had violated the constitutional rights of those incarcerated inside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park.
"There is a humanitarian crisis taking place," states the lawsuit, which was filed by the Federal Defenders of New York on Monday morning. After a fire knocked out power inside MDC on January 27th, inmates went without heat and electricity for a week as temperatures plunged below freezing. Attorneys were prevented from meeting with their clients, some of whom said they had been denied access to medical care.
"MDC inmates reported to attorneys at the Federal Defenders that there was little or no heating, no or limited hot water, minimal access to electricity, and near total lack of access to certain medical services, telephones, televisions, computers, laundry, or commissary," the lawsuit states. "Inmates also reported that they smelled noxious fumes; some reported seeing BOP officers wearing masks. No masks were supplied to inmates."
Meanwhile, the BOP and Quay assured a federal judge that "heat has never been impacted," and that services were only minimally affected.
The Federal Defenders' attorney-in-charge, Deirdre von Dornum, was allowed to visit MDC on the judge's order, and "discovered that much of what Defendant Quay told the Southern District was materially false and/or misleading," the lawsuit states.
As conditions deteriorated over the weekend, family members of the incarcerated gathered outside the jail, urging their loved ones to bang on their cell windows in protest. Elected officials, including U.S. representatives Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, visited MDC and were appalled by what they saw; on Sunday, guards pepper-sprayed family members and protesters who entered the building.
On Sunday evening, the power at MDC had been restored, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio and media reports. But on Monday morning, attorneys reported that the jail was back on lockdown thanks to a "credible threat."
Hearing from folks on the ground that things are tense right now over at #MDCBrooklyn. Lawyers have been kicked out of the facility. Family visits cancelled. 2 snipers on the roof. Officers in riot gear. Something about a "credible threat." Follow @blackboikei for updates.
— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) February 4, 2019
The Bureau of Prisons has not yet responded to Gothamist's request for comment.
A spokesperson for the law firm that filed the complaint, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, said that a hearing had been scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday.
Another public hearing on conditions at MDC has been scheduled in federal court for Tuesday morning at 11 a.m.
In a colleague's case, US Dist. Judge Analisa Torres has ordered the US BOP to appear at 11AM on 2/5/19 for a PUBLIC EVIDENTIARY HEARING about the recent conditions at MDC Brooklyn, including lack of heat and electricity.
Tues., 500 Pearl St., Room 15D. pic.twitter.com/mDhAKdAWMk
— Gideon Orion Oliver (@gideonoliver) February 2, 2019
[UPDATE / 3:39 p.m.] The BOP sent us the following statement:
On Monday, February 4, 2019, at approximately 10:25 a.m., staff at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn received a bomb threat from an unknown source. As a precautionary measure, all visitors and contractors were escorted out of the facility. Notifications were made to law enforcement. All staff and inmates were accounted for and the institution was secured. The New York City Police Department Emergency Services Unit responded to the facility and began the process of determining the credibility of the threat. The facility was placed on modified operations.
No credible threat was identified and the institution returned to normal operations at 1:50 p.m.