Bomb Threat at Brooklyn Jail Prevents Visits After Protests Over Heat Outages

A bomb threat has prevented visitations at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal jail in Brooklyn, New York, two New York Times reporters reported on Monday, that has been the site of recent protests over inmate conditions.

"Lawyers ushered out of [Metropolitan Detention Center] Brooklyn after the facility received a bomb threat, police confirmed. Visitations suspended until further notice," New York Times reporter Christina Goldbaum tweeted. Goldbaum also posted that there was increased security outside the prison.

When asked about the reported threat, the New York Police Department told Newsweek that the Metropolitan Detention Center was "a federal facility not under the jurisdiction of the NYPD."

"On Monday, February 4, 2019, at approximately 10:25 a.m., staff at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn received a bomb threat from an unknown source. As a precautionary measure, all visitors and contractors were escorted out of the facility. Notifications were made to law enforcement," the Federal Bureau of Prisons told Newsweek. "All staff and inmates were accounted for and the institution was secured. The New York City Police Department Emergency Services Unit responded to the facility and began the process of determining the credibility of the threat. The facility was placed on modified operations. No credible threat was identified and the institution returned to normal operations at 1:50 p.m. Visiting (both social and legal) will resume at 5:00 pm today."

Demonstrations were staged outside MDC, which houses 1,600 inmates, over the weekend to protest that, according to reports, heating at the facility had not been functioning properly as temperatures in New York plunged to subzero temperatures during last week's polar vortex.

On Sunday, corrections officers appeared to pepper spray protesters at the facility who tried to enter and see detainees.

Defense lawyers filed a lawsuit in District Court on Monday over what they described as a "humanitarian crisis" in the Brooklyn jail, according to The New York Times.

The lawsuit said that problems at the facility began during the 35-day government shutdown, when the facility, which was short-staffed, began canceling inmate visitations. After a power failure and electrical fire on January 27, inmates were confined to their cells and put on lockdown. Inmates were also kept in total darkness, the suit says. Union leaders said heating issues were not related to the power outage and occurred when boilers froze during the frigid temperatures.

The suit said electrical shortages meant prisoners could not get medications, since the computer system was down.

GettyImages-1048898134
Mexican drugs kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by police motorcade across the Brooklyn Bridge on October 10, 2018. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The jail has denied that the inmates were housed in inhospitable conditions.

A spokeswoman for warden Herman Quay said on Friday that "all housing units have functional lighting. Heat and hot water has not been impacted. Likewise, inmate meals are not impacted; inmates are receiving regularly scheduled hot meals each day."

On Sunday, the Department of Justice released a statement saying that power had been restored.

"The electrical power at the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility at MDC Brooklyn was restored at approximately 6:30 p.m. (Sunday) evening. With the heat and hot water operational, and the restoration of electrical power, the facility can now begin to return to regular operations. In the coming days, the Department will work with the Bureau of Prisons to examine what happened and ensure the facility has the power, heat and backup systems in place to prevent the problem from reoccurring," the statement said, according to WABC.

The lawsuit noted the disparity in the accounts from inmates and those from the warden. "Every single one of these claims has been contradicted by reports from those with firsthand experience of these deplorable conditions," the suit said.

In recent days, elected officials blasted the prison for the reports about the lack of heating.

New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand called for immediate remedies to the situation.

"This is inhumane and a violation of the detainees' constitutional rights. The Bureau of Prisons needs to fix this immediately," Gillibrand tweeted.

"New York City is sending trucks with hundreds of blankets and hand warmers to the Metropolitan Detention Center NOW and generators are being readied for transport. We've told the Federal Bureau of Prisons the supplies are coming—whether they like it or not," Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Saturday night.

Governor Andrew Cuomo asked for the Justice Department to investigate the conditions at the Brooklyn facility, writing: "Prisoners are human beings. Let's treat them that way."

This article has been updated to include comment from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Bomb Threat at Brooklyn Jail Prevents Visits After Protests Over Heat Outages | U.S.