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June 16, 2019

Brooklyn inmates speak to judge after week without heat, power: ‘Thank you for treating us like human beings’

February 6, 2019
Protesters at the Metropolitan Detention Center on 29th Street in Brooklyn on Sunday (main) as inmates yell to their supporters (inset). (Theodore Parisienne for New York Daily News; AP)

One inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn had water dripping into his moldy cell.

Another said he’d had to take a noose out of his suicidal cellmate’s hand.

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A third said he had a “bloody rash.”

And a fourth inmate wearing weeks-old bandages said jail staff had ignored his urgent need for treatment of his glaucoma .

“I may have a retina detachment and not know it right now,” the inmate said.

A court transcript from Judge Analisa Torres’s tour of MDC Tuesday hints at the surreal hellscape inside the 1,600-bed jail on the Brooklyn waterfront. The transcript was filed in Manhattan federal court as part of a hearing on jail conditions that concluded Tuesday after Torres’ tour.

Accompanied by public defenders, government lawyers, State Attorney General Letitia James and others, the judge visited two floors of the institution that went went a week with limited electricity and heat.

The outages sparked a weekend of volatile protests from concerned family members and politicians outside the Sunset Park facility.

Weeks of heat and electrical problems became a crisis beginning Jan. 27, when a fire caused a partial blackout in the jail, leaving inmates shivering in dark cells.

Warden Herman Quay — who was accused of lying to downplay conditions in the jail — was also on the tour but barely said anything, according to the transcript.

Analisa Torres is pictured during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York in 2013.
Analisa Torres is pictured during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York in 2013. (Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL)

The judge’s first stop was in the Special Housing Unit, which one MDC official referred to as a “jail within a jail.” She peered into cell 114, standing under a vent that was blowing cold air.

“So just looking in the window, this very narrow window, I can see abundant water damage. Towards the back is a rectangular shaped cell. On the ceiling you can see copious amounts of paint peeling and hanging from the ceiling. The ceiling is painted white, but the water damaged area has a kind of golden tone to it. It almost looks like wet tissues hanging from the ceiling,” she said.

“There is water dripping. You can see it, abundant. It is as plain as day,” she said.

Deirdre von Dornum, the attorney-in-charge of Brooklyn Federal Defenders, said that on Friday it was too dark to see into his cell, but that the inmate had said he’d been sleeping on cold wet sheets for a week.

“I heard you say it was like sleeping under a waterfall?” Torres said, struggling to hear the inmate through the cell door.

“Yes,” the inmate replied.

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A few cells down, an inmate told the judge he’d tried to tell correction officers his cellmate was suicidal and they’d ignored him.

“I physically had to take the — literally had to take the noose of his cellmate’s hand he was trying to kill himself,” Torres said, again relaying the inmate’s words through a cell-door.

“Thank you for being worried about us ma’am, and treating us like human beings,” the inmate said.

“I’m very worried about you,” the judge replied.

Nearby, Torres noted a cell with “black, blotchy mold.” An inmate there said he had a rash on left arm due to water dripping on it.

On the sixth floor of the jail, some inmates were wearing shorts and mingling in a common area — a far departure from Friday when frost appeared on cell windows, von Dornum said.

Nevertheless, one inmate still had a vent blowing cold air into his cell blocked with cardboard secured by string.

In Unit 61, which witnesses said was one of the coldest units in the jail, an inmate approached the judge with bandages he said hadn’t been changed in over three weeks.

Von Dorum had pleaded for the man to receive treatment on Friday and he still hadn’t gotten it.

“The pressure in my eye is high…I’m supposed to go immediately if I see flashes in my eye. And I was telling the officers, and they was just completely ignoring me,” the inmate said.

“I explained to them like my doctors told me if I see color of floaters, that I’m supposed to immediately go to the hospital…They just completely ignored me. I may have a retina detachment and not know it right now.”

Nevertheless, the horrific conditions were markedly better than last week.

“The only reason why I think people are getting medical attention today and hot food and seemed pretty happy relatively to what the reports were is because of the scrutiny,” attorney Ezra Spilke said after the tour.

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