Sunset Park

Frigid week in heatless jail ends with mass protests

February 4, 2019 By David Brand Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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After a frigid week without heat or electricity inside Sunset Park’s huge Metropolitan Detention Center, power was restored Sunday night — but not before hundreds of detainees’ loved ones, activists and local leaders condemned the “inhumane” conditions inside the federal facility, which houses 1,600 inmates and pretrial detainees.

“This is an injustice. This is inhumane,” said Brooklyn resident Mikey Michelle as she painted a sign of support for the detainees on Sunday. “Heat is a human right.”

The power outage at the jail first attracted widespread attention on Friday — more than four days after the heat went out — as detainees banged on the frosted windows of their cells to communicate with demonstrators outside. On Sunday, a handful of detainees pressed against common area windows and shouted down to loved ones outside who were prevented from entering the facility.

Family members communicated through megaphones and handwritten signs, which they held aloft on the street outside the facility.

“I’ve been locked in a cell for four days,” one man shouted. “Thank you for giving me a voice.”

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“It’s me, mom. It’s your son. I love you,” another yelled. “I’m right here.”

Family members responded through megaphone or handwritten signs, which they held aloft on the street outside the facility. Other demonstrators read messages from family and friends who came to support detainees and struggled to get information about their loved ones.

“I have no idea how he’s doing — if he’s ok, if he’s sick,” said Heidy Machuca, a Bronx resident whose brother Giovanni Torres, 23, is detained at MDC while he awaits trial on gang-related charges. “We don’t know anything, and we haven’t heard from him since Monday.”

The scene outside the jail turned briefly chaotic Sunday afternoon when several family members, activists, politicians and reporters attempted to enter the building. Bureau of Prisons security staff inside the lobby aggressively repelled the crowd, and at least one guard doused some demonstrators with pepper spray.

NYPD officers helped BOP staff herd protestors and set up barricades around the entrance. Several defense attorneys who entered the building to meet with their clients left coughing or covering their mouths with their shirts.

“We’re not getting any information. It’s straight up torture in the middle of New York City,” Queens state Sen. Michael Gianaris told the Eagle.

Gianaris avoided being hit with the chemical spray when he attempted to enter the facility. He was later allowed inside, along with U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez, Yvette Clarke and Jerrold Nadler, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Councilmember Brad Lander.

Federal officials said old infrastructure caused the power and heat outage. The contractor hired to fix the system’s broken equipment was away and would return Tuesday, BOP said.

Eagle photo by Andy Katz

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