Lawsuit: jail conditions 'humanitarian crisis'

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Federal detention center in Manhattan. (FOX 5 NY)

A lawsuit brought by lawyers for inmates at a federal detention center in New York City calls a power failure that occurred there a "humanitarian crisis."

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Brooklyn federal court by the Federal Defenders of New York.

The lawsuit alleges that the Federal Bureau of Prisons violated the constitutional rights of about 1,600 inmates by denying legal visits after a Jan. 27 fire caused the failure.

Power was restored to the Manhattan Detention Center at about 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

The lawsuit says the outage caused "inhumane" conditions for inmates and the response was "woefully inadequate." It calls for the appointment of a special master to inspect the lockup.

Some demonstrators protesting the conditions attempted to get into the facility on Sunday, and witnesses said guards pushed them back and sprayed them with what is believed to be pepper spray.

A reporter and photographer for The Associated Press were at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn when a woman whose son is being detained tried to get into the jail. Protesters had been outside the facility in recent days following news reports that those housed there have been largely without heat or power and hadn't been able to communicate with lawyers or loved ones.

On Sunday, an inmate was able to call through the window of his cell, which faces out to the street, to his mother below. The woman, crying and upset, tried to get into the facility, where visits had been stopped.

She was followed by activists and media into the lobby, where any visitors had to pass through metal detectors.

Witnesses said officers used significant force to push the people out, with some of those attempting to come in being pushed to the ground. The AP photographer saw officers use some type of spray. Those affected were seen washing out their eyes with water or milk.

Fox 5's Lisa Evers identified her as Yandy Smith.

The Bureau of Prisons has acknowledged that the jail "experienced a partial power outage due to a fire in the switch gear room." The bureau had said a new electrical panel is being installed by an outside contractor and work is expected to be completed by Monday.

The jail administration did not return an email seeking comment on the clash Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.