Need to reform conditions at Metropolitan Detention Center unites rivals for congressional post

August 16, 2022 Raanan Geberer
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They may be political rivals, but four candidates for the same office joined others on Tuesday at a press conference in front of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where they asked the federal government to improve conditions at Brooklyn’s federal jail.

The four are Councilmember Carlina Rivera, former federal impeachment counsel Dan Goldman, U.S. Rep. for the Hudson Valley region Mondaire Jones, and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Nion.

They, as well as Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and former U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, are all running to represent the newly-redrawn 10th Congressional district, which encompasses a stretch of Brooklyn from Downtown to Park Slope to Sunset Park as well as Downtown Manhattan.

At the event, they were joined by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander. Although Simon wasn’t present, she, along with the aforementioned four candidates, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Federal Bureau of Prisons documenting some of the problems at the facility, according to Bloomberg News.

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Among the problems the candidates cited were a week-long blackout in early 2019 that left detainees without heat or light, four suicides during the past two years, and reports charging incidents of sexual abuse, poor facilities management and more, Bloomberg News added.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, left, is joined by New York Congressional District 10 Democratic primary candidates Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, second from left, Rep. Mondaire Jones, second from right, and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou during a news conference outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Sunset Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. Officials are calling for stricter oversight at the federal detention facility. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The letter said prison officials should make their facility available to unannounced inspections by elected officials and judges, the Daily News added.

In recent years, the MDC, as it’s known, has housed its fair share of high-profile defendants prior to, and during, trial. One was Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite who was eventually convicted of procuring underage girls for financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Another was Nancy Salzman, one of the leaders of the sex cult Nxivm, who was convicted of racketeering conspiracy.

Ronell Wilson, a Staten Island gang member who was convicted of murdering two police officers, was held there in 2012 after being removed from federal prison in the Midwest, when his death sentence was vacated. While at the MDC, he fathered a child with a female guard during an illicit rendezvous in the jail’s bathroom.

Former Metropolitan Detention Center guard Nancy Gonzalez, center, listens as her attorney, Anthony Rico, speaks to members of the media outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn on July 3, 2013. Gonzalez pleaded guilty to an illegal sex act with inmate Ronell Wilson. AP Photo/Tom Hays

In April of this year, a former guard at the jail, Jeremy Monk, was charged with smuggling drugs, alcohol and tobacco into the MDC.

Also this year, a group of attorneys claimed they were trapped in the jail during a lockdown for several hours because officers refused to let them leave, the Daily News reported. Two of the lawyers said they weren’t allowed to make calls to tell their children that they’d be late to pick them up from day camp.

The aforementioned blackout in 2019 gave rise to a federal lawsuit. The plaintiffs argued that because of the situation, they experienced “inhumane conditions that posed unreasonable and substantial risks to their health and safety.”

After the World Trade Center disaster of Sept. 11, 2001, some South Asian and Arab Muslim men were rounded up and arrested in “special interest” sweeps and held at the MDC, according to the Brooklyn Eagle. The men, in a lawsuit, later alleged that the then-warden, Dennis Hasty, encouraged and tolerated abuse by the guards, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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