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$125K Settlement in ECBA Housing Discrimination Case

A White Plains housing cooperative and rental management company have paid $125,000 to settle a housing discrimination case initiated by M. Forster, a 34-year old disabled man living in Westchester County, New York.  Mr. Forster sought to purchase an apartment in a building owned by the coop and managed by the rental company using his special needs trust, but was told that ownership by trust was not permitted.  The suit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice,  challenged the coop’s and management company’s refusal to grant Mr. Forster a reasonable accommodation.  The settlement was covered by Westfair Online here, and a press release issued by the government can be found here.

ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Alanna Kaufman represented Mr. Forster and his special needs trust.

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Federal Court Rejects Motion to Dismiss the “Bronx Zoo” Group Home Lawsuit

On July 5, 2017 federal judge Paul A. Engelmayer denied motions brought by several New York State employees to dismiss a lawsuit filed by ECBA on behalf of family members of three developmentally disabled adults alleging rampant abuse and neglect at a State-run group home in the Bronx. In an opinion noting that the facts in the complaint were enough to “shock the conscience,” Judge Engelmayer upheld claims under city, state, and federal law, seeking both monetary damages and an injunction to protect residents’ civil rights. The decision finds that the lawsuit adequately alleged that state-employed facility staff “cruelly abused persons with disabilities for no valid reason, but instead out of malice, spire, impatience, or sport,” concluding that such “physical abuse of helpless persons cannot be said to serve a legitimate governmental interest in a civilized society.” The opinion also finds the allegations sufficient to claim that supervisors and administrators within New York State’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities were reckless in failing to stop the abuse, referring to an OPWDD Regional Director as “taking woefully insufficient action” and responding “minimally if at all” to abuse and neglect reports.

ECBA’s Ilann Maazel and David Lebowitz represent the plaintiffs. To read the opinion, click here. To read past coverage of this case, click here.

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Justice Department Files Discrimination Suit On Behalf of ECBA Clients

On March 1, 2017, the United States filed a housing discrimination suit on behalf of several ECBA clients against Bedford Development LLC, Carnegie Construction Corp., Jobco Inc., Robert Pascucci, and Warshauer Mellusi Warshauer Architects, P.C. The complaint alleges that these defendants failed to design and construct Sutton Manor condominium in Mount Kisco, New York, in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities. ECBA represents several disabled residents who purchased units at Sutton Manor based on the false promise of an accessible home to live in post-retirement. This suit originates from complaints ECBA filed on behalf of these residents with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They are represented by Diane L. Houk and Jessica Clarke of ECBA.

To read more about the complaint, click here.

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NY State Pays $3 Million to Family of Disabled Boy Abused at Group Home

The State of New York has paid $3 million to the family of a developmentally disabled boy who was repeatedly sexually assaulted and abused by an employee at the State-run group home near Utica where he lived. The abuse took place over multiple years, and was discovered after photos and videos the abuser, Steven DeProspero, had made of the assaults were found on his computer. DeProspero is currently incarcerated under both state and federal convictions for crimes related to the abuse.

ECBA attorneys Ilann MaazelAndrew G. Celli, Jr., and Ali Frick represented the boy’s family. As Mr. Celli told the AP, “This is a case where you had someone who really was evil. But what failed here was the system. You have to have systems in place to ensure the safety of children who have needs, and they just fell down on the job here.”

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Foster Child Sues Agency Responsible for Placing Him in Home of Serial Abuser

On September 22, 2016, ECBA, along with Ressler and Tesh PLLC, filed a federal lawsuit in Long Island on behalf of a young, special needs child who was improperly placed by the agency SCO Family of Services in the home of an abusive pedophile—Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu. This child, who is originally from Washington State, was transferred through SCO Family of Services nearly 3,000 miles away to Mugaburu in Long Island. Once there, he suffered a fate similar to the many vulnerable boys forced to live with this madman. He was physically and mentally abused, subjected to long periods of starvation, and sexually assaulted. As alleged in the lawsuit, SCO Family of Services ignored repeated complaints about Mugaburu, including those from J.A. himself, warnings from Suffolk County’s foster agency, and numerous red flags about Mugaburu and his home.

Read more about the case and Mugaburu in press coverage by the New York Times and Daily News.

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Families Request Bronx DA Criminal Investigation in “Bronx Zoo” Disability Abuse Case

Three families have formally requested that Darcel Clark, the District Attorney for Bronx County, open a formal criminal investigation into the abuse of disabled residents at Union Avenue IRA, a group home run by New York State.

The State has not revealed how many of these alleged abusers still work for the State or with the disabled.

Last week, the families filed a civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan federal court.  According to New York State’s own Justice Center, staff gave disabled residents black eyes, punched them, pulled their hair, spit on them, shoved and punched them, kicked them, smashed their heads into walls, denied them food, and botched their medical care.

A copy of the demand for a criminal investigation to the District Attorney is here.

 

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ECBA Files Federal Lawsuit Alleging Shocking Abuse in Bronx Group Home

This morning, three families filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging severe and pervasive abuse of disabled residents in a New York State group home called the Union Avenue IRA.  According to New York State’s own Justice Center, staff gave disabled residents black eyes, punched them, pulled their hair, spit on them, shoved and punched them, kicked them, smashed their heads into walls, denied them food, and botched their medical care.  The lawsuit also alleges that high-level State officials knew about the alleged abuse, but did nothing to stop it for months.

Staff refer to the group home as the “Bronx Zoo.”  It is not known how many of these New York State employees still work for the State or with the disabled.

“It’s revolting, appalling, inhuman,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.  “This case represents a complete breakdown in hiring, training, investigation, discipline, and oversight.  We call on Governor Cuomo and the Bronx District Attorney to get justice for these families, and to make sure no disabled person is abused in a New York State group home ever again.”

“Even by the standards of New York’s notorious system of care for disabled people, this case stands out as one of the most repugnant,” said David Lebowitz, another attorney for the residents’ families.  “This is not a case of one or two bad apples, but an entrenched culture of cruelty tolerated by supervisors and State officials who turned their backs on vulnerable people in their care.”

Follow updates on the case here.

 

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Disability Housing Discrimination Case Settles for $1.3 million

A federal court has approved a $1.3 million settlement relating to the design and construction of two housing developments in Queens and Dutchess Counties, New York. The plaintiffs, a disabled woman who purchased a ground floor unit at the Queens site and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), alleged that the developers, architects, and site engineers failed to design and build the developments in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, rendering them inaccessible to residents and guests with physical disabilities.

Defendants will pay $900,000 for damages, attorneys’ fees, and retrofits to the individual plaintiff’s unit, driveway, and sidewalks.  Defendants will also retrofit ground floor units and certain common areas at the Dutchess County project at their expense and have future residential sites reviewed for compliance. In addition, the settlement provides $400,000 for the FHJC to use to provide financial assistance to income eligible homeowners and renters with physical disabilities seeking to make accessibility modifications to their existing housing, including unit owners at the Queens development.

Plaintiffs were represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Ali Frick, and by James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.

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$2.25 Million Settlement for Abuse of Disabled Adult in a New York State Facility

The family of K.C., a 22-year-old severely disabled man, settled a federal lawsuit in Albany against staff at the O.D. Heck Developmental Center, a New York State facility for the disabled. The lawsuit centered on the physical and verbal abuse K.C. suffered at the hands of the staff members. The abuse was first revealed by a whistleblower, who described K.C.’s horrific treatment in a sworn deposition. K.C. died in early 2011, after he was found to be severely malnourished. The family was represented by ECBA attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Hayley Horowitz.

To read the New York Times coverage of the case, click here. To read the press release, click here.

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ECBA Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Mentally Disabled Rikers Inmate Beaten and Neglected by Correctional Officers

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, together with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of Jose Guadalupe, a mentally disabled inmate, who was severely beaten by Rikers Island guards on September 2, 2014. The assault occurred after Mr. Guadelupe voiced his objection to guards ripping down family photos and magazine clippings from the walls of his cell. Even though Mr. Guadalupe was handcuffed and not a threat, the four officers responded by throwing Mr. Guadalupe to the ground, where they repeatedly punched him in the head and kicked him in the back, legs, and ribs. Following the beating, Mr. Guadalupe was left in a hot cell for nearly six hours, going in and out of consciousness, before he was finally transported to a nearby medical center where he was treated for injuries including a concussion, bruises to his ribs, facial swelling, lower back pain, dizziness, and cuts to his lip and right eyebrow. He was confined to a wheelchair for three weeks after the assault. Mr. Guadelupe is represented by ECBA attorneys Jonathan S. Abady and Zoe Salzman, along with Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project’s Jonathan S. Chasen and Mary Lynne Werlwas.

To read more, click here.

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