December 22, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bret Grote, Abolitionist Law Center, (412) 654-9070
Philadelphia – A federal lawsuit was filed today on behalf of Tyrone Briggs against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections after staff at State Correctional Institution Mahanoy killed him in November 2019 through a lethal combination of excessive oleoresin (OC) spray and refusal to provide necessary medical care. Tyrone, a native of Philadelphia who was 29 years old and had been incarcerated since he was a 15-year-old child was close to his parole eligibility date (his minimum sentence was 15 years) when his life was taken.
Tyrone suffered an untreated asthma attack on November 11, 2019 after being saturated with multiple cans of OC spray, tragically and senselessly ending his life. His parents, Shaleda and Montrell Busbee, are bringing this lawsuit to expose the systemic failures that resulted in Tyrone’s death.
An investigation by legal counsel found that guards repeatedly and excessively unloaded entire cans of OC spray at Tyrone while responding to an incident in the yard, including the final burst of spray which was administered directly at Tyrone’s face while he was restrained on the ground.
As Tyrone slowly attempted to walk to medical, multiple incarcerated people heard him say repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.”
OC spray is an inflammatory agent that affects the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, causing a painful burning sensation of the lungs, shortness of breath, and temporary blindness. For people with respiratory disabilities such as asthma, like Tyrone, the consequences can be deadly.
“How does a mother begin to express the loss of her child,” asked Shaleda Busbee, Tyrone’s mother. “Where would I even begin in conveying all of the emotions that it brings? Tyrone was such a loving and devoted son to me in the short years that we shared together. Tyrone was taken from me for the first time at 15-years-old and treated like an adult while just being a child, he never received his right to experience freedom as an adult, and now he never will, which is the second time that I’ve lost my loving and devoted son, but for good this time.”
“We’re filing this lawsuit to expose the injustice Tyrone received and experienced, and we’re also doing it for all of the other families that have incarcerated loved ones,” Mrs. Busbee also expressed. “No parent should have to suffer grief and loss such as ours. And we would like to make a change to help ensure that everybody gets the chance to return home safely from incarceration.”
The lawsuit aims to uncover the names of the officers and medical staff responsible for Tyrone’s death, and to ensure the DOC takes measures to prevent these abuses from recurring. Alarmingly, reports have emerged from throughout the PADOC that since the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a dangerous and unnecessary law mandating that all state correctional officers carry OC spray, there has been a reported – and predictable – increase in the use of OC spray.
“Tyrone didn’t deserve to die and his parents never should have known the pain of having their child killed by the government,” said Robert Saleem Holbrook, executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “Whether the killing is done by police or prison guards, the racialized system of state violence treats our community members as if they are disposable. We won’t tolerate this. Tyrone’s life mattered and we’re going to stand with the Busbees as they seek to make change in honor of their son.”
Correctional officers have a basic and common sense responsibility to protect the health and safety of the people in their care,” said Jonathan H. Feinberg, a partner with the Philadelphia law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP. “The fact that officers caused Tyrone Briggs’ death in the violent manner described in the complaint raises serious questions about systems of supervision and training in the Department of Corrections—questions that we intend to carefully investigate in this case.”
Shaleda Busbee is the Administrator of the Estate of Tyrone Briggs, the plaintiff in the lawsuit. The DOC, Superintendent DelBalso, Deputy Superintendent Stetler, and 11 John Does are the defendants. The case was filed in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.