One year later, Jamel Floyd’s family vows to sue MDC for wrongful death

James Floyd, father of Jamel Floyd, stands outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park on June 3, 2021 — the one-year anniversary of his son’s death.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

Activists joined the family of Jamel Floyd outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park Thursday night to mark the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death — where Floyd’s parents vowed to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal lockup.

“I am in so much pain, I couldn’t even describe it,” Floyd’s father James said to the crowd of about two dozen people. “But, life goes on and we’re here to fight and let the folks in this facility know that we’re gonna fight with all our might.”

Floyd died on June 3 of last year at MDC, after being pepper sprayed in the face by jail guards; he suffered a heart attack and died at a nearby hospital. The federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs MDC, has said that Floyd had been banging against his cell window with a metal object before guards maced him.

Donna Mays, Floyd’s mother, has stressed that her son was asthmatic and diabetic, and argued that the mace is what caused his death, but the city’s Medical Examiner maintained that Floyd had a “synthetic cannabinoid” in his system at the time that caused the heart attack.

Floyd’s mother, Donna Mays, takes part in a moment of silence for her son outside MDC.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Floyd’s parents disagree — James told Brooklyn Paper Friday that the macing and the length of time before Floyd was administered medical treatment were responsible — and the two said Thursday that MDC should be shut down.

“There’s no way in hell that this jail should be operating,” said Mays, noting that she had recently seen footage from the day her son died. “I don’t know how they sleep at night. I haven’t slept without taking some kind of sleep aid every night. So how the hell do they go home and rest in their beds, knowing what they’ve done?”

Speaking with Brooklyn Paper, Floyd’s parents said they’ll be announcing further details on the lawsuit later this month at a press conference, but that after having seen the tapes, they believe that MDC staff, at the least, didn’t take the necessary steps to prevent Floyd’s death.

“It’s indescribable what I’ve seen in that footage,” Mays said. “I’ve never seen nothing like that in my entire life. Nobody supervising anything. A big circus. A high school having a fight, the security does better than that.”

The family of Jamel Floyd and their supporters release balloons for Floyd outside MDC.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Floyd’s death isn’t the only troubling incident to take place at the Brooklyn prison in recent years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, detainees alleged harrowing conditions at the hands of jail administration, such as being locked in their cells nearly all day, and a lack of adequate PPE or social distancing.

Pre-pandemic, in 2019, inmates endured a week without heat in the building during one of the coldest stretches in recent memory after a power outage. A Justice Department probe found that the BOP had failed to address “preexisting heating and cooling issues” prior to the stretch, that the facility did not adequately address the heating outage and medical episodes during it, and that the BOP hadn’t been transparent with inmates or with the public.

A judge last month granted a group of 1,700 inmates at MDC at the time of the power outage the right to file a class-action suit against the jail over the conditions.

James Floyd shows a photo of his son Jamel to the crowd.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“We all must fight against this system,” James said. “Try to make this system recognize the damage that they’re doing to human beings in there is not tolerated.”

Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane