Plaintiffs David Scott and Jeremy Cerda filed a class-action lawsuit today against Warden Herman Quay in federal court. The case challenges the conditions of confinement at Brooklyn’s federal jail, Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”), during the humanitarian crisis that unfolded over the bitterly cold week of January 27, 2019 to February 3, 2019, after an electrical fire at the jail.
As widely reported and alleged in the complaint, during the crisis people were left locked in their cells with almost no light or heat for a week. People were confined in near pitch-black darkness. People sat shivering in their beds, huddled under blankets with little or no heat in the cells. The suit also alleges that the lack of light and heat was compounded by an array of other brutal conditions. People were confined to their cells continuously for days. Hot showers and hot water were suspended or severely limited. Cells with toilets that were not functioning were filled with the smell of decaying feces. People continued to live in their soiled clothing and bedsheets without any laundry. Requests for medical and psychiatric care were ignored. People had no access to regular or hot food. Communication with the outside world—whether by email, phone, or visits from lawyers or family—ceased. People struggled to maintain their sanity in a void of information about when the blackout would end. And, of course, jail employees were forced to work under these impossible circumstances. The lawsuit also claims that, in response to the crisis, MDC’s Warden, Defendant Herman Quay, engaged in dereliction of his obligation to provide these most basic minimal living standards to more than a thousand people in his care and custody. These problems were longstanding and foreseeable, and the Warden failed to assess the infrastructure problems that had long plagued the jail.