Inmate in federal custody dies after incident involving pepper spray

An exterior view of the Metropolitan Detention Center on February 4, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

(CNN)A 35-year-old black man in federal prison in New York City died after he became "disruptive" and guards used pepper spray, the Justice Department said.

Jamel Floyd, who had been at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn since October 2019, was barricaded inside his cell and was "breaking the cell door window with a metal object," the department said in a press release.
"He became increasingly disruptive and potentially harmful to himself and others," the release said. "Pepper spray was deployed, and staff removed him from his cell."
Medical staff determined that Floyd was unresponsive and "instantly initiated life-saving measures," the department said.
    Floyd was transported to a local hospital and pronounced dead by hospital staff. The release states that there is no indication his death was related to Covid-19.

    Calls for independent investigation

    The matter is under investigation, and US Marshals and the FBI were notified, according to the release.
    Organizations like Release Aging People in Prison are calling for an independent investigation into the matter.
    RAPP Director Jose Saldana, who spent 38 years in federal and state prisons and has been pepper sprayed, said he wants someone other than the Bureau of Prisons to investigate what happened.
    "Pepper spray, under normal circumstances, when it's used the way it's supposed to be used, is not supposed to be fatal," Saldana told CNN. "But when it's used excessively, it might trigger a heart attack or something else that may lead to someone dying. They had to have done something in addition to just giving a regular dose of pepper spray."

    'Too often unsafe'

    Rep. Nydia Velazquez, whose district includes the facility where Floyd was housed, said on her verified Twitter account Wednesday night that her office is investigating the matter.
    "For years, I've been ringing the alarm about mistreatment of those detained at #MDCBrooklyn," she wrote. "Whether it is a loss of heat in the dead of winter, inadequate protections against the spread of Covid-19, or this most recent incident, it has become evident that this institution is too often unsafe."
    In February last year, a partial power failure left inmates at the detention center without heat for days. In March, the first known case of a federal inmate contracting coronavirus was reported there.
    Velazquez called on the prison to maintain all security footage of Floyd's unit for review. Velazquez said she plans to march to the prison Thursday evening to protest conditions there with local leaders.

    Medical examiner will release findings to the public

    New York City Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said her office is in the process of its investigation of Floyd's death.
    "We will complete a thorough, independent investigation firmly rooted in science," a statement from Sampson reads.
    If Floyd's family requests it, Sampson said she would permit a licensed pathologist to observe any autopsy performed, and that her office will release official findings to the public.
    Bureau of Prisons director Michael Carvajal said Thursday that the BOP immediately notified the FBI and the Office of Inspector General and was notified Thursday morning the Inspector General would take the case.
    "That's about all I can comment on because the matter is under investigation," Carvajal said.
      US Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Thursday that his office is investigating the circumstances of Floyd's death, in coordination with the FBI, "with which the DOJ OIG frequently works on incidents in BOP facilities," a statement from Horowitz said.
      "Consistent with DOJ OIG and Department of Justice policy, we will be unable to provide further information until the investigation is complete, at which time we will publicly disclose our findings to the greatest extent possible, consistent with applicable laws," Horowitz said.