Asthmatic Inmate At Rikers Island Claims He Was Sprayed With Bear Repellent

"I was mad. I was upset. I was angry," said the former inmate. "I felt like our lives didn't matter to them."

By Eric Shorey

Rikers Island, New York City's main jail complex, has repeatedly proven to be an inhumane place for inmates. One-time inmate Jerome Reece claims that he was sprayed with a powerful bear repellent and left without medical attention for eight hours.

According to New York Daily News, Reece alleges that he was following orders to leave his room when an officer sprayed him with a chemical used to ward off bears. The 44-year-old asthmatic says he suffered for hours from the substance. He could barely breathe and attempted to wash the spray from his face using water from a toilet. Reece and other inmates pleaded for help but their requests went unanswered until Reece had coughed up considerable amounts of blood. Another inmate reported that clinic staff had been busy celebrating at a staff party with cake and ice cream. When Reece finally did make it to a doctor, he claims the medical professional failed to properly take his vital signs or prescribe any medication.

"I was mad. I was upset. I was angry," Reece said. "I felt like our lives didn't matter to them."

Reece is taking legal action against the city and the Department of Correction in Brooklyn federal court. He's claiming that he was the victim of excessive force and deliberate indifference to his medical needs. He also says he plans to sue over two other spraying incidences. 

The city's Department of Correction "has not taken sufficient steps to curb the abuse that occurs on a daily basis in New York City jails," claims Reece's suit.

“It's a continuous pattern at Rikers Island of using excessive force,” said Reece's lawyer, Pamela Roth, who says that this particular MK-9 spray is only supposed to be used as a last resort and certainly not without warning or in someone's face. "They're just coming indiscriminately spraying everybody. They're using it more so as torture, than it is to keep the inmates in line."

The Deparment of Corrections has responded to the suit in a statement: “Commissioner [Joseph] Ponte cares deeply about the health and well-being of all inmates and is working closely with the city’s new correctional health services provider to ensure our inmates are provided quality health care.” 

[Photo: Getty Images]

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