Family of Tyrone Briggs, killed at the age of 29 by SCI-Mahanoy staff, reach historic settlement with Pennsylvania Department of Corrections

The monetary settlement is the largest reported award in any Pennsylvania case involving the death of a person in custody and brings about policy changes for staff training, medical care, and OC-spray use on incarcerated persons with respiratory illnesses and disabilities.

September 8, 2021

Contact:  William Lukas, Director of Communications • Abolitionist Law Center  

PHILADELPHIA – The family of Tyrone Briggs, a 29-year-old Black man with asthma who was killed by staff at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Mahanoy in 2019, have reached a settlement with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). The settlement amounts to a total $8,500,000 and ushers 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.

The settlement comes six months after Tyrone’s mother, Shaleda Busbee, represented by the Abolitionist Law Center and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP, filed suit against the DOC’s prison administration and SCI-Mahanoy staff to hold them accountable for Tyrone’s tragic and preventable death.

“This historic settlement recognizes both the extraordinary misconduct of prison employees who caused Tyrone Briggs’ death and the extraordinary trauma caused to Tyrone’s family,” said Jonathan H. Feinberg, an attorney with the Kairys, Rudovsky firm. “It stands as a message to jail and prison staff everywhere: when you violate the law, you will be held accountable.”

On November 11, 2019, Tyrone was brutalized with multiple cans of OC spray, unloaded by prison guards who proceeded to restrain him during an altercation with another incarcerated person in the yard. After being tackled and handcuffed by the guards, he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” as he attempted to walk to the prison infirmary for treatment. Instead of being treated for an asthma attack that was impairing his breathing, Tyrone’s 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, Tyrone 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, while parents Shaleda and Montrell ceased their homecoming plans for Tyrone: his death came soon before he was eligible for parole after serving 13 years in prison since the age of 15. 

Shaleda filed suit against the DOC in federal court on December 22, 2020, and, in her 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.

Memorial montage of Tyrone with friends and family.

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.

“This historic settlement not only reflects the enduring strength of the Busbees, but also reflects the strength of organized resistance to the brutality and inhumanity meted out by the prison system. Tyrone’s life was treated as if he was disposable,” said Robert Saleem Holbook, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “Disposable is how so many incarcerated people, especially people living with disabilities and chronic illnesses, are deemed by the prison guards and administration. This case underscores the power of litigation and advocacy centered by victims of the carceral state. It is a reminder that people in prison are not disposable and that we will bring serious consequences if they are treated as such.”

Shaleda Busbee, the Administrator of the Estate of Tyrone Briggs, was the plaintiff in the lawsuit. The DOC, Superintendent DelBalso, Deputy Superintendent Stetler, and 11 John Does were the defendants. The case was filed in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on December 22, 2020.

Click here to view the settlement agreement and release of claims.



“Pa. prisons pledge reform and pay $8.5 million after Philly man died from pepper spray” by Samantha Melamed for The Philadelphia Inquirer (09/08/2021)

“I Can’t Breathe” – Parents of Tyrone Briggs Sue Department of Corrections for Death of their Son

December 22, 2020

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.


Link to Filed Complaint

Family Calls for Justice in Death of Tyrone Briggs

Tyron Briggs’ parents Shaleda and Ervin Busbee

Last week Tyrone Briggs, a 29-year-old from Philadelphia, died after Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) staff at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Mahanoy reportedly used force against him. Mr. Briggs had been incarcerated since he was 15 years-old, and he and his family were eagerly anticipating his release on parole in the near future; instead, his parents, friends, and community find themselves mourning and awaiting answers about why the life of their beloved son, cousin, and friend was taken.

While very little information has been released about Mr. Briggs’ death, there is strong reason to believe that aggressive conduct of DOC staff directly caused it. As the family seeks answers for the death of their beloved son, the Abolitionist Law Center will be representing Mr. Briggs’ parents, Shaleda and Ervin Busbee. We will accompany and fight with them to ensure that Mr. Brigg’s death does not become yet another extrajudicial killing by the state that goes by without justice and accountability.

Tyrone’s father, Ervin Busbee, said: “The lives of the inmates in there matter, they are someone’s son, daughter, father, mother, brother or uncle. They are human. Why are you painting my son as an animal? Tyrone’s life mattered. His Mother will never get to see him again. The last time she saw him was behind glass on a visit, and the next time she’ll see him will be in a box. We took pictures of Tyrone to church every week so our congregation would get to know him and they were awaiting his presence at service when he came home. Now our church will be burying him. Why hasn’t the prison offered its condolences? We want justice.”  

ALC’s Director of Community Organizing, Robert Saleem Holbrook, emphasized the importance of supporting Mr. Briggs’ family and pursuing systemic change: “The Busbees are victims. Their son Tyrone was violently taken from them. We will not only pursue justice in this case but will also ensure that measures are taken in the future to prevent such reckless use of force on prisoners, whether restrained or unrestrained. As investigations proceed we want to be clear at the outset that victims of state violence are entitled to the full range of victim services in the Commonwealth.”

Legal Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, Bret Grote, stated that “Whether committed by a police officer or a prison guard, extrajudicial killings of Black people in this country are an epidemic. Our clients have joined a tragic community of those who have lost loved ones to state violence. We are asking our larger movement family to come together and support them in this time of grief.”

A GoFundMe page has been established by the family to help with costs associated with Tyrone’s death. Please visit this LINK, contribute, and share widely.