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‘Longstanding’ issues at a Brooklyn federal lockup caused inmates to freeze for days

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MivPiv/iStock(BROOKLYN, N.Y.) — The Brooklyn, New York, federal lockup that left almost 1,700 inmates in below-freezing temperatures after a fire earlier this year had “longstanding” problems with its heating system, according to the results of the U.S. Inspector General’s Office review.

Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice, found that the Jan. 27 to Feb. 3, 2019, power outage at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) had nothing to do with an electrical fire that sparked the federal investigation and lawsuits.

“We determined that heating issues had been a longstanding problem at the jail that existed before, during, and after the fire and power outage and were unrelated to these events,” said Horowitz, adding, “Rather, they were the result of the facility’s lack of proper equipment to continuously monitor temperatures, which the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) was aware of and had not addressed.”

However, the safety and security of the inmates were not a concern, according to the 65-page report released on Thursday that gave nine undisputed recommendations to the BOP as a result of the investigation.

The inspection and review of the Sunset Park facility were launched after the Jan. 27 blaze that knocked out the heating system and left about 1,700 inmates in below freezing temperatures until Feb. 3. Hot water and medical care as well as communications with inmates’ counsel and relatives were also denied during that time, said Horowitz.

“The BOP’s initial silence about the fire and power outage was interpreted by defense counsel, the courts, the public, and ultimately members of Congress as apathy and indifference, as demonstrated by ensuing public confusion and protests, judicial actions, and congressional scrutiny,” according to the report.

The BOP issued two conflicting press releases about the fire over six days and erroneously assured the public that the inmates had hot water.

As of June 9, 2019, according to the report, Herman E. Quay, who was the warden of MDC during the power outage, is now the warden of Federal Correctional Complex Allenwood.

Quay was “away from the institution” at the time of the outage, according to the report. Quay is named as a defendant in nine ongoing federal civil lawsuits filed in the Eastern District of New York, according to the report.

The investigation found the jail’s lowest recorded temperature was 59 degrees a week before the fire. When the power was restored, the heat rose to over 80 degrees. Inmates made “nearly three times as many complaints about hot temperatures than cold temperatures,” said Horowitz.

The Inspector General’s office recommended the federal building’s HVAC system be upgraded in order to “allow facilities staff to accurately monitor building temperatures and heating, ventilation and cooling equipment performance.” The BOP’s temperature target is 68 degrees.

The recommendations also include providing cold-weather clothing to the inmates, properly recording the building’s temperatures, updating visitation policies and creating a list of inmates who require electronic medical equipment in their cells.

The BOP has until Dec. 26, 2019, to provide documentation detailing the status of the recommended improvements.

In July, American Oversight, a nonprofit ethics watchdog, filed a federal civil lawsuit against the BOP for not adequately responding to its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for records regarding the outage. On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s office of Washington, D.C., which is representing BOP, said American Oversight was not entitled to the FOIA information.

The BOP spokesperson told ABC News there would be no further comment because of ongoing legal proceedings or pending litigation.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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