The family of an inmate who died after being pepper-sprayed is blaming his death on Brooklyn jail guards — who allegedly did nothing as he “slowly died,” according to a new federal lawsuit.
Donna Mays, 61, claims her son Jamel Floyd’s June 3 death at the Metropolitan Detention Center could have been prevented if the correction officers properly responded to him while he was in the throes of a mental health episode.
“Mr. Floyd’s life was cut abruptly short by correctional officers who subjected Mr. Floyd to excessive force and then stood by while he slowly died,” says Mays’ lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court.
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Floyd died three days before he was set to go before a parole board. He would have been eligible for parole just four months later.
The 35-year-old, who was locked up on a burglary conviction, was sent to solitary confinement on May 30, the day after he was allegedly brutally beaten by guards in a staff bathroom outside of security camera view, the court papers claim.
By June 3, Floyd — who took medication for bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, high blood pressure and asthma — “began to experience a severe mental health or medical crisis” and repeatedly asked for medical help.
But the pleas “fell on deaf ears,” the filing alleges.
For several hours that day, he repeatedly shouted, “Is this personal?,” “I need medical attention,” “I can’t breathe” and “Someone is trying to kill me,” the filing claims.
At least one guard walked by “and told him to be quiet and that there was ‘nothing wrong with [him],'” the court papers allege.
A prison psychologist also spoke to Floyd for a few seconds, but the doctor didn’t record the interaction in his medical chart, the suit claims.
Another officer making rounds also spoke to Floyd for a few seconds, the filing alleges.
“In desperation, Mr. Floyd broke his sink and knocked a hole in his cell window, begging for someone to pay attention to him,” the court papers says.
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Over 20 officers responded outside Floyd’s cell, with some holding “riot shields,” as he told them, “My chest is hurting and y’all are not listening,” the suit alleges.
But instead of trying to defuse the situation, “officers sprayed several canisters of pepper spray directly into his locked cell,” the documents allege.
So much pepper spray was used that a cloud of the substance formed and spread, causing one officer to vomit and others to cover their faces with T-shirts, the suit says.
Floyd “began loudly coughing, gagging and choking” and he “collapsed and fell to the floor.”
“The enormous amount of pepper spray caused Mr. Floyd to experience a life-threatening abnormal hearth rhythm,” the papers claim, calling it a “grossly excessive use of force.”
“As Mr. Floyd lay on the ground, soaked in pepper spray with his heart beginning to fail, correctional officers opened the cell door, tackled Mr. Floyd, and pinned him to the ground,” the papers allege.
The guards didn’t call for medical assistance right away despite the fact that Floyd was “visibly experiencing a medical crisis,” the documents claim. Instead, he was strapped to a chair.
“By the time the officers and a medical staff member finally attempted to resuscitate Mr. Floyd, while he was still strapped to the restraint chair, it was too little too late,” the court papers allege.
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Floyd had been housed at the MDC since Oct. 30, 2019, after having been transferred from another prison, the suit says.
But with his release on the horizon, he had plans to return home to Hempstead, New York, and live with his family and girlfriend there.
In fact, he was studying to get a commercial driver’s license so he could start a trucking company with his brother. Floyd also planned to walk his mom down the aisle at her wedding.
“All he talked about was coming home and getting his life together,” Mays told Time in an October interview. “He was more excited about coming home … than anything in his life.”
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Mays filed an administrative claim with the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Dec. 3 but the federal government “has made no attempt to settle or resolve this claim,” the documents allege.
Mays is suing the federal government and unnamed BOP staff for unspecified damages.
The BOP and the Justice Department both did not immediately return requests for comment.
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