Inmate at a Brooklyn prison dies after officers pepper sprayed him in the face

Demonstrators rallied outside of the MDC in Sunset Park on May 29 calling on authorities to release prisoners during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)


An inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park died on Wednesday after corrections officers pepper sprayed him in the face. 

Officials at the Third Avenue federal prison claim that 35-year-old Jamel Floyd was “being disruptive” and “potentially harmful to himself and others” while barricaded inside his cell — leading authorities to dispense pepper spray and restrain him. 

Medics arrived on the scene and rushed Floyd to a nearby hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead. 

The city’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Barbara Sampson, said her officer was investigating, and will announce the cause of Floyd’s death after a “thorough, independent investigation firmly rooted in science and medicine.”

Representatives from the federal prison system said in a statement that “there is no indication that his death was related to COVID-19.” 

“The FBI and the United States Marshals Service were notified. No staff or other inmates were injured,” the agency said. 

The incident comes amid days of clashes between cops and protesters demonstrating against police brutality, which began in response to the death of George Floyd, an unrelated 46-year-old man who died of suffocation at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

Since that incident, the protests raged across the county — including in New York City, where well over 1,000 people have been arrested since May 28. 

Jamel Floyd’s death drew instant criticism from activists and politicians alike, including the non-profit Federal Defenders of New York, who called the incident “extremely disturbing” — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The MDC is a brutal place to be imprisoned at any time, but it’s truly horrific right now. People incarcerated there are completely locked down, shut off from their families and loved ones, and living in fear of a deadly disease. We don’t know what happened yesterday, but we need to find out,” the organization said in a statement. “The most important thing right now is to get the facts.”

Borough President Eric Adams said the borough was “in the middle of a perfect storm for continued chaos,” and called for a measured approach toward instituting criminal justice reforms.

“This is a critical moment for all of us — police officers, righteous protestors, and everyday New Yorkers — to de-escalate our valid anger over the situation facing this city and our country. That anger must be channeled into dialogue over solutions to deliver justice, not into further death and destruction,” said the Beep. “It’s time to tangibly address the unrest in our streets, including the disturbing scenes I witnessed last night outside Brooklyn Borough Hall. It’s time to enact a meaningful reform agenda.”

Adams also alluded to the 1,600-inmate prison’s checkered past with handling the safety and well being of its inmates — including during a week-long stretch in 2019 when the facility’s heating system failed, leaving inmates to suffer in below-freezing temperatures.

“News of Jamel Floyd’s tragic death at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal facility with a more-than-troubling recent history towards its inmates, has inflamed the rage of protesters committed to end abusive law enforcement practices.”

The prison has also come under fire for an alleged failure to provide inmates with proper protections from COVID-19, leading to various demonstrations and calls to release inmates. 

Protesters — led by Sunset Park Councilman Carlos Menchaca, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, and State Sen. Zellnor Myrie — will gather outside St. Michael’s Church at 43rd Street between Third and Fourth Avenues on June 4 at 5 pm to demand answers in Floyd’s death, according to the legislators.

This story first appeared on brooklynpaper.com.