Witnesses: Authorities spray protesters as outrage over Brooklyn jail grows

February 03, 2019 - 12:52 pm

NEW YORK (1010 WINS/AP) – Many inmates and staff at a Brooklyn federal jail are still without heat, hot water and electricity a week after an electrical fire.

Dozens of protesters returned to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park on Sunday after possibly hundreds protested at the jail on Saturday.

Some demonstrators attempted to get into the facility Sunday, and witnesses say guards pushed them back and sprayed them with an unknown stinging substance. City Councilman Brad Lander described a chaotic scene after the spray was discharged.

A reporter and photographer for The Associated Press were at the jail when a woman whose son is being detained tried to get into the jail. She was followed by activists and media.

Witnesses say officers used significant force to push the people out, with some of those attempting to come in falling to the ground.

State Sen. Mike Gianaris also said authorities had pepper spray out as they were trying to "keep people away from #MDCBrooklyn."

RELATED: Protesters rally outside jail where inmates complain of no heat, electricity

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on the Justice Department "to immediately investigate the circumstances" at the center.

"New York stands ready to provide any support necessary to keep the heat, hot water and electricity running," he tweeted. 

Attorney General Tish James and other state and federal leaders and lawmakers, among them Comptroller Scott Stringer, were at the scene Sunday trying to get answers as inmates continued to bang on windows like they had the day before. 

Rep. Jerry Nadler, who toured the jail Sunday, said conditions had improved, with better heat since Saturday, but that there was no sense of urgency and that the electrical system was still down. 

"It's still on lockdown basically. The inmates being kept in their cells. They have real complaints, still some temperature complaints, but also that their food wasn't delivered on time," Nadler said, adding that there were issues with elevators that bring the food. 

An organizer for the American Federation of Government Employees said staff are being forced to work in freezing temperatures and that they’re wearing coats and scarves while carrying out their duties in the dark.

The federal Bureau of Prisons says they’re working to get the outage fixed but that repairs may not be completed until Monday – more than a week after the problem started.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is condemning the treatment of the inmates. He and other leaders planned to attend Sunday’s demonstrations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that the city sent trucks with generators, blankets and hand warmers to the facility but that the prison’s warden reportedly refused the blankets.

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez says she visited the jail with other elected officials Saturday and the heat was uneven and sporadic. She said the inmates had no light in their cells and they “are very angry and complaining.”