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'They pepper-sprayed him to death': Mom of dead prisoner speaks out

The incident began when inmate Jamel Floyd barricaded himself inside his cell and used a metal object to break the cell-door window, authorities said.
The Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in February 2019.
The Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center in February 2019.Brendan McDermid / Reuters file

The Justice Department inspector general has launched an investigation into the death of a federal inmate who lost consciousness after corrections officers pepper-sprayed him at a New York detention center.

Jamel Floyd, 35, died Wednesday after a fracas at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, the federal Bureau of Prisons said.

The incident began about 10 a.m. when Floyd barricaded himself inside his cell and used a metal object to break the cell-door window, the agency said.

Jamel Floyd died after corrections officers pepper-sprayed him at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.Courtesy of Floyd family

Floyd “became increasingly disruptive and potentially harmful to himself and others," the bureau said, prompting officers to deploy pepper spray to subdue him.

Floyd became unresponsive and was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, the bureau said.

“My son has asthma and they pepper-sprayed him to death,” said his mother, Donna Mays, who spoke to NBC News by phone Thursday while she was protesting outside the Metropolitan Detention Center.

“We have no answers. The facility still hasn’t contacted us.”

In a statement Thursday, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office is investigating the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death.

The Bureau of Prisons declined further comment.

New York City Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said her office is investigating Floyd's death.

"We will complete a thorough, independent investigation firmly rooted in science and medicine," Sampson said.

The death comes as the federal prison system grapples with COVID-19 outbreaks that have claimed the lives of 72 inmates and one staffer.

Floyd’s death did not appear to be related to the coronavirus, the bureau said. He had arrived at the federal detention facility on Oct. 30, 2019.

The nation’s federal detention facilities have been placed on lockdown amid the unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Floyd was serving a 15-year prison sentence after a jury convicted him of burglary and other charges in connection with a violent home invasion in Long Island, N.Y. in 2007. State prison records show he was locked up at Sing Sing prison prior to arriving at the Brooklyn facility.

It wasn’t immediately clear why he was moved to a federal detention center. His mother said he was “under the protection of the federal government.”

“It had to do with a particular case,” she said. “He was supposed to be protected.”

An FBI spokesman declined comment and referred questions to the Bureau of Prisons.