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Family of deceased inmate sues over excessive pepper spray

December 22, 2020 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The family of a Philadelphia man who died in a Pennsylvania state prison has filed a federal lawsuit, saying his death was due to an excessive amount of pepper spray used by guards who then denied him urgent medical care when it caused a prolonged asthma attack.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by Shaleda Busbee, the mother of 29-year-old Tyrone Briggs, who died at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Allentown in November 2019.

Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spokesperson Sue McNaughton declined to comment on the open lawsuit.

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The department issued a news release in November 2019 saying 13 members of the prison’s staff, including unnamed guards and medical personnel, had been suspended during an investigation into Briggs’ death. McNaughton declined to say Tuesday what the outcome of that investigation was or whether any of those personnel were fired.

The lawsuit lists 11 guards and medical personnel as John Does as well as two supervisors at the facility as defendants alongside the Department of Corrections.

Lawyers with the Abolitionist Law Center allege that guards used an “unjustifiable amount” of pepper spray to break up an altercation between another inmate and Briggs, who they said was defending himself in the fight.

They say three different officers used prolonged streams of pepper spray instead of short bursts as they had been trained to use, noting that the third officer sprayed Briggs directly in the face as two other officers held him down to handcuff him.

Briggs was serving a minimum of 15 years in jail for the rape of an 11-year-old girl when he was 15 years old. His family’s lawyers say it was known to prison medical staff that he had asthma. They say it took more than 30 minutes for medical staff to treat him with an inhaler, but by that time he was in serious respiratory distress.

Briggs was then transferred to solitary confinement where he collapsed and was determined to be unresponsive, then died a short time later.