Defense lawyers from the Federal Defenders of New York filed suit on Monday against the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn for its inadequate response to a fire that resulted in limited heat and power for inmates.
A fire broke out in the West Building of the jail, where male inmates are housed, on January 27, which led to a partial power outage. The loss of power impacted numerous services including television and internet, heating and air conditioning, service of hot meals, an electronic medical request system, and access to legal counsel. The Metropolitan Detention Center houses almost 1,600 inmates awaiting trial, and legal and social visitations were canceled for six days.
The warden, Herman Quay, provided an update to a US district court claiming that there was proper heating, inmates’ medical conditions were being addressed, and hot meals were being served. However, defense attorney Deirdre von Dornum was granted an order from Judge Irizarry to be allowed entry into the jail. Upon her visit, she discovered that conditions were contrary to what Quay reported to the courts. She described that the facility was cold, cells were dark from no electricity, certain inmates were unable to refill medical prescriptions or get clean clothing/bedding, and some inmates reported being served cold food for days following the fire damage.
Following a short visitation period on February 3, the meetings with defense lawyers were cut short after protesters were pepper sprayed by jail staff who had gathered in the lobby. The complaint alleges that all of these acts are a violation of the inmates’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Also, the complaint details that the jails conditions and response to the power outage was a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act arbitrary and capricious review and the Bureau of Prison regulations.
The Department of Justice announced Monday that the detention center had full power and heat restored around 6:30 PM on Sunday.