Busbee v. DOC

This federal lawsuit was filed 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. Briggs, who was 29 years old and had been incarcerated since he was a 15-year-old child, was close to his parole eligibility date when his life was taken (his minimum sentence was 15 years). His parents, Shaleda and Montrell Busbee, brought the 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 Briggs while responding to an incident in the yard, including the final burst of spray which was administered directly at Briggs’ face while he was restrained on the ground.

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 like Briggs, with respiratory disabilities such as asthma, the consequences can be deadly.

After being tackled and handcuffed by the guards Briggs repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” as he attempted to walk to the prison infirmary for treatment. Briggs’ requests for medical care were ignored as staff moved him from the yard to the infirmary to the solitary confinement unit in less than 20 minutes. Despite his inability to breathe and his losing consciousness prior to arrival in the solitary unit, Briggs was placed in an empty cell without medical attention while he continued to asphyxiate due to the OC-triggered asthma attack. Although he was under observation, DOC staff did not intervene until well after he had become fully unresponsive. By the time medical staff came to assess him, he had already died.

In the days that followed Tyrone’s death, the DOC suspended more than a dozen medical staff and correctional officers.

The lawsuit aimed to uncover the names of the officers and medical staff responsible for Tyrone’s death, and to force the DOC to take measures to prevent such abuses from recurring. The complaint alleged that the defendants engaged in excessive force, an unconstitutional denial of medical care, and a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), all of which led to Tyrone’s death.

The case was settled on July 23, 2021, when Briggs’ family reached a settlement totaling $8,500,000 with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), and ushered in policy changes and medical care protocols related to the use of oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray on incarcerated persons living with respiratory illnesses and disabilities.

As part of the settlement, in addition to the payment of monetary damages, the DOC agreed to institute critical changes to prison staff training on OC spray and medical care protocols concerning the use of OC spray against individuals incarcerated in DOC facilities. Under the agreement, training on the heightened risk that OC spray poses to incarcerated asthmatics is now mandated for all correctional staff new hires, as is annual training for all medical staff who oversee the care of incarcerated persons living with respiratory illnesses and disabilities. The settlement also calls for increased medical examinations, observations, and contact with on-call medical providers when an incarcerated person living with respiratory illnesses and disabilities comes into contact with OC spray.

Case Timeline

12/22/20: Case Filed

12/22/20: Case Filed Cancel

07/23/21: Case Settled