(NEW YORK) — A federal jail inmate in New York City died Wednesday after correctional officers sprayed him with pepper spray, the Bureau of Prisons said.
Officers sprayed Jamel Floyd, a 35-year-old black man, after he barricaded himself in his cell at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center and broke a cell door window with a metal object, the agency said.
“He became increasingly disruptive and potentially harmful to himself and others,” the agency said in a statement. “Pepper spray was deployed and Floyd was removed from his cell.”
Floyd’s mother said her son suffered from asthma and diabetes and that jail officials were aware of his health conditions.
“They maced my son,” Donna Mays told the New York Daily News. “They murdered my son.”
Members of the jail’s medical staff checking on Floyd later found him unresponsive, the agency said. They started life-saving measures and called an ambulance. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The Bureau of Prisons said there is no indication Floyd’s death is related to coronavirus. The agency’s director, Michael Carvajal, said Thursday that the Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating. He declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation. The city medical examiner’s office said it will perform an autopsy on Floyd. The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service have also been notified.
Confirming his involvement, Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a statement that his office would issue a public report on its investigation into Floyd’s death but won’t provide any information until it’s completed.
The head of the union representing correctional officers at the jail declined comment, saying management had yet to provide any information on what happened.
Floyd had been at the Metropolitan Detention Center since Oct. 30, transferred from the state-run Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where he was serving a 12- to 15-year sentence for his part in a violent Long Island home invasion in 2007. He was eligible for parole in October, according to state prison records.
Court records did not show any federal cases with a person by Floyd’s name as the defendant.
Floyd died amid a lockdown at federal jails nationwide spurred by protests and violence over the May 25 death of George Floyd and special procedures because the coronavirus pandemic, such as requiring inmates to wear masks.
The Metropolitan Detention Center has had a share of problems in recent years, including a week-long power failure in January 2019 that sparked unrest among shivering inmates.
In March, the jail had the federal prison system’s first inmate to test positive for coronavirus.
The Bureau of Prisons started arming correctional officers with pepper spray more widely after an officer at a penitentiary in Pennsylvania was ambushed and killed by an inmate in 2013. Before that, most officers just had keys, handcuffs and a hand-held radio to protect them.
Prisoner rights advocates have long argued that the effects of pepper spray are more harmful to inmates with respiratory problems. They’ve also raised concerns it has lowered the bar on use of force.
The Bureau of Prisons has said its officers are trained to use pepper spray only when staff or inmates are in immediate danger and only after they have tried to defuse the situation with verbal commands.
Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Larry Neumeister and Karen Matthews in New York contributed this report.