Jamel Floyd’s Family Marks First Anniversary of His Pepper Spray-Induced Death at the Hands of MDC Prison Guards

Family vows to file a wrongful death lawsuit, demonstrators demand infamous jail be closed.

Zion DeCoteau Jun 9, 2021

In late May, the nation marked one year since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. On June 3, a small crowd of family and supporters marked one year since the year since the killing of Jamel Floyd, who died after being pepper-sprayed by guards at the federal Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) prison in Brooklyn. 

The family of Jamel Floyd. Photo: Sue Brisk.

Led by members of Floyd’s family clad in red T-shirts and black pants, the group honked car horns, banged on pots and pans, and chanted “no justice, no peace!” outside the prison, in Sunset Park. Prisoners could be heard banging on windows in support. 

“It takes two to tango, but a hundred officers to kill one man? Something ain’t right,” James Floyd, the victim’s father, told the crowd through a bullhorn.

“I need to go see a psychiatrist to tell you the truth,” he added. “I’ma be very honest with you. But so far I’ve been hanging on by the grace of God. We have our difficult moments, but the most important thing is that we stick together.”

Floyd was at MDC finishing out his sentence for his involvement in a 2007 home invasion on Long Island. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, he died on June 3, 2020 after being pepper-sprayed by corrections officers before they pulled him out of his cell. Prison officials said he was pepper-sprayed for “acting erratically” and breaking his cell window with a metal object. 

Floyd’s cousin Tomeka Mays maintains that he broke his cell window to demand that the guards get him medical attention. 

“Jamel was feeling sick, he was telling them he needed a medic, he needed a medic!” she says. “They ignored him. He got upset, broke the window, and started screaming, ‘I need a medic!’ They came in, let pepper spray off through his [cell] window, and then they went in. When he got into that geriatric chair, Jamel was dead.”

Floyd, 35, died just weeks before his scheduled release on parole. He was hoping to walk his mother, Donna Mays, down the aisle when she remarried. 

“Brick by brick, wall by wall, tear it down and free them all,”the protesters chanted.

“This jail has not even notified me that my son has passed away. To this day,” said Donna Mays. 

“We found out from the medical examiner that he was dead,” added Tomeka Mays. 

She said that several inmate witnesses have made statements that Floyd had begged for medical attention before the clash with guards that ended in his death. 

The protesters also called for the immediate shutdown of the 1,700-inmate prison, which became notorious in February 2019 when its heat and electricity broke down during a week of extreme cold weather.

“Brick by brick, wall by wall, tear it down and free them all,” they chanted.

“No one who commits a crime should really even be put in an inhumane situation,” said protester Megan DiMotta. “We’re trying to help people get back into society, not take them out for good. I think that’s what prison is, just taking people out of society and forgetting about them.” 

“This place is horrendous,” said Donna, a Staten Island native who declined to give her last name because her son is an MDC inmate. “The food has mold, the showers are moldy, they’re lucky if they get a shower. Every other day they’re locked down for some reason. Right now, they’re locked down.”

She said her son told her prison authorities were “saying it’s a power outage, but it’s because we’re out here.” 

“It seems like people in this neighborhood don’t know about it, or care about it,” said demonstrator Peter Finnen. “They go and shop next door and they are unaware that there are human beings in here basically being tortured.” 

Floyd’s family plans to file a wrongful-death suit against the federal government. Donna Mays said that she and her lawyer would announce more details on June 17.

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