Article

“Bronx Zoo” Case Settles for $6 Million and Transfer of Control of State Facility

As reported in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, and elsewhere,…

New York, NY – This morning, three families settled a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging abuse of disabled residents in a State-run group home in the Bronx. The lawsuit revealed years of shocking abuse and neglect in the Bronx home, including staff who gave disabled residents black eyes, pulled their hair, spit in their faces, kicked them, sexually abused them, withheld food from them, showered them in frigid water, and botched their medical care.

The group home is run by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (“OPWDD”), a New York State agency. Whistleblowers testified that staff acted “like prison guards,” “operated like a gang,” and treated disabled resident like “animals in the zoo.”[1] Some staff referred to the group home as “the Bronx Zoo.” In sworn testimony, OPWDD’s then-Commissioner, Kerry A. Delaney, described State employees’ conduct as “utterly shocking,” admitted that defendants “failed their duty to protect individuals in that home,” and called the home “a disaster.” A copy of the complaint is here.

Under the settlement, the State will pay $6 million, believed to be one of the largest settlements in OPWDD history. In addition, the State will permanently relinquish control of the home, known as the Union Avenue IRA, to a nonprofit provider. Finally, the individual staff will never be permitted to reenter Union Avenue as long as any of the three disabled residents reside there.

“From the very top to the very bottom, OPWDD failed my sister on every level. I hope and pray that all the individuals living at Union Avenue will now live happy, healthy, fear-free lives, once OPWDD turns over control of Union Avenue to a nonprofit provider,” said Laura Kearins, sister of one of the plaintiffs. “I’m completely saddened and heartbroken. How can people prey on the innocent with no remorse? We will move forward trying to repair the damage that was done,” said Barbara Melendez, sister to another plaintiff.

“This is one of the most appalling disability abuse cases I’ve seen in over twenty years of practice,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel for the families, and a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.  “How could so many New York State employees brutalize so many people, for so long, while no staff or supervisor did a thing about it? This case is a wake-up call for massive reform in this State agency.”

Even today, many former Union Avenue staff with claims of abuse or neglect substantiated by the Justice Center work with disabled residents in other group homes run by New York State; many were not disciplined at all. David Lebowitz, another attorney for the families, called this “a scandal and a disgrace.” “Hopefully, this case and this settlement can shine a light on the structural issues that allow abusive staff to work with disabled people without consequence,” said Ashok Chandran, another attorney for the families.

Maazel and ECBA were also counsel in the cases of Jonathan Carey, Eddie Velasquez, and K.C.

For more information, contact:

Ilann M. Maazel, David Lebowitz, or Ashok Chandran
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (in New York)
212-763-5000
imaazel@ecbalaw.com
dlebowitz@ecbalaw.com
achandran@ecbalaw.com

 

[1] As one staff member, Shirlynn Thomas, testified: “Q: Would you ever leave your child in the care of Linton, Conner, Tucker or Teams? A: Not my dog.  I wouldn’t leave my dog.”

Article

ECBA Files Case for Innocent Man Who Spent 20 Years in Jail

ECBA filed a case in the Eastern District of Michigan today against Detroit Police Department officers whose misconduct resulted in the wrongful conviction of Kendrick Scott, an innocent man. Detroit Police Department officers framed Mr. Scott for murder by beating up an illiterate, intoxicated sixteen-year-old boy until he falsely inculpated Mr. Scott and threatening another teenager with a history of mental illness to do the same. They concealed evidence that pointed to the victim’s husband as the likely true culprit. They threw Mr. Scott in jail, then they threw away the key.

After nearly 20 years of proclaiming his innocence and fighting to be exonerated, Mr. Scott was finally released in November 2018. Through this case, Mr. Scott hopes to vindicate his civil rights, shine the light on police abuse, and bring an end to a decades-long injustice.

“No amount of money can properly compensate Mr. Scott for the loss of twenty years of his life,” said ECBA partner Zoe Salzman.

“Mr. Scott’s story is tragic for its familiarity: a young black man, framed by police through a pattern of egregious misconduct, lost nearly two decades of his life for no reason,” said ECBA attorney Ashok Chandran.

Read more about the complaint and press coverage of the case here.

ECBA attorneys Zoe Salzman and Ashok Chandran  represent Mr. Scott.

Article

Settlement of Jane Doe’s Lawsuit for Shackling During Pregnancy and Labor: NYPD Will Pay $610,000 and Reform Patrol Guide Procedures

On July 3, 2019, ECBA reached a $610,000 settlement in the case of Jane Doe, a 28-year old Bronx woman who was arrested and shackled by the NYPD when she was 40 weeks pregnant, after she was arrested for a misdemeanor on February 7, 2018.  NYPD officers and supervisors insisted on keeping Ms. Doe in shackles for approximately thirty hours, even while she was in active labor and during her post-partum recovery with her infant daughter at the hospital.  The NYPD kept Ms. Doe shackled during her transport, labor and post-partum delivery despite being repeatedly warned of the health risks and illegality by hospital doctors and staff.

As part of the settlement, Ms. Doe insisted that the NYPD also agree to amend its Patrol Guide to prevent its officers from ever violating the rights and safety of another woman through the unlawful use of shackles. “Because of Jane Doe’s bravery and determination in pursuing this case, the NYPD will now change its procedures to better protect pregnant women in the future,” said ECBA partner Katie Rosenfeld.

Ms. Doe is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Ashok Chandran.  A copy of the settlement agreement can be found here.  The New York Times coverage of the settlement can be found here.

Other coverage of the case can be found here, here and here.

Article

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer Files Lawsuit Seeking Community Review of NYCHA’s Plans for Holmes Towers

On April 18, 2019, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer filed an action to ensure that NYCHA complies with state and local law requiring full community input into its plans to redevelop the Holmes Towers public housing project on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. NYCHA plans to allow a private developer to construct a mixed-income 50-story tower in the middle of the Holmes Towers, obliterating a central playground and large areas of open space that currently occupy the land (shown below) and violating the neighborhood zoning requirements that protect access to light and air. The suit alleges that the NYCHA and the Respondents have acted unlawfully by circumventing the important role of the Borough President and the community in reviewing land use proposals in Manhattan. Through this lawsuit, Borough President Brewer seeks to ensure that the important goal of generating much-needed capital for public housing revitalization does not trump the public and City elected leaders’ roles in decision-making about significant development projects in their community.

The Borough President is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Ashok Chandran. The petition and brief can be found here and here, respectively.  Coverage of the case filling can be found here and here.

Article

ECBA Wins Legal Victory in 200 Amsterdam Case: Court Orders Board of Standards and Appeals to Revisit Building Permit for Out-of-Scale 55-Story Tower

On March 14, 2019, Justice W. Franc Perry ruled in favor of firm clients, the Municipal Art Society of New York and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, in their ongoing action to halt the unlawful construction of a 668-foot residential mega-tower on a gerrymandered zoning lot at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, previously slated to be the tallest building on the Upper West Side.  The Court held that the building permit rested on an unreasonable interpretation of the Zoning Resolution that was inconsistent with a plain reading of the statute, and remanded the building permit back to the BSA for further review consistent with the Court’s order. The Court also rejected the argument of the developer, Amsterdam Avenue Redevelopment Associates LLC, that simply because DOB had issued the permit in the first place, it was therefore entitled to complete the building.  “Vested rights,” the Court wrote, “cannot be acquired by relying on an invalid permit.”

Read the decision here.

Read the coverage of the win here and here.

MAS and CFESD were represented in the proceeding by ECBA lawyers Katherine Rosenfeld, Richard D. Emery, and Ashok Chandran, and co-counsel Charles Weinstock, Esq.

Article

ECBA Sues NYPD for Shackling Woman in Labor

On December 6, 2018, ECBA filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a pregnant woman who was shackled by the NYPD for approximately thirty hours after she was arrested in the Bronx for misdemeanor. The woman, who is known as Jane Doe in this suit, was repeatedly restrained by numerous different NYPD officers even as she went into labor and was taken to Montefiore Medical Center in the early morning of February 8, 2018. She was forced to labor in shackles, in extreme pain. Although officers partially removed the shackles minutes before Jane Doe gave birth, they reapplied them shortly after. Jane Doe was forced to welcome her baby into the world with her arm chained to her hospital bed.

The shackling of pregnant women is a barbaric and degrading practice. It is universally denounced  by medical and correctional experts as dangerous and unnecessary. It has been illegal in New York for years. Doctors at the hospital reportedly warned the officers that their use of shackles posed serious health risks to Jane Doe and her child, and violated the law. The officers ignored these warnings, claiming that the Patrol Guide required the use of shackles and superseded any law to the contrary.

Through her suit, Jane Doe seeks to end the NYPD’s use of this draconian and illegal practice, and ensure that no pregnant woman is shackled by the NYPD again.

Jane Doe is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Ashok Chandran. The complaint can be found here. Press coverage by the New York Times can be found here.

Article

ECBA Files Brief For Public Defenders and Civil Rights Groups Urging Appeals Court to Reconsider Approach to False Evidence Claims

ECBA has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the federal appeals court in Manhattan urging the full court to reconsider a recent decision that affects how much time victims of police misconduct have to file civil rights claims in court.  The amici curiae brief was filed on behalf of a coalition of organizations that defend indigent people accused of crimes, work to correct wrongful convictions, and protect civil rights.  It argues that when someone alleges that police fabricated evidence used to charge him with a crime, the statute of limitations on his civil claim should not start running until the criminal case against him is resolved in his favor.  As the brief explains, the recent decision, if not corrected by the full court, could hurt criminal defendants’ ability to defend themselves against charges and lead to the dismissal of valid civil rights claims for technical reasons, even if the plaintiff is the victim of egregious misconduct or has served years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The groups represented by ECBA in the case are the American Civil Liberties Union, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Center for Appellate Litigation, Connecticut Innocence Project, The Innocence Project, The Legal Aid Society, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Office of the Appellate Defender, and Vermont Office of the Defender General.  ECBA attorneys Sam Shapiro, David Lebowitz, Doug Lieb and Ashok Chandran worked on the brief.

Article

ECBA Sues City for Retaliating Against Airbnb Host

On July 18, 2018, ECBA filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York and others on behalf of Stanley “Skip” Karol, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, who uses the Airbnb platform to rent out part of his family home.  The suit alleges that, in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause, the City retaliated against Mr. Karol for his remarks criticizing City officials and policy at a public hearing before the New York City Council on June 26, 2018.  Concerned that the legislation pending before the Council would put him in the same category as operators of illegal hotels, Mr. Karol exercised his First Amendment rights by participating in a public hearing on the bill.  Days later, City enforcement officials appeared at Mr. Karol’s two-family home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and issued him four summonses carrying fines of tens of thousands of dollars.   The complaint alleges that the enforcement effort aimed at Mr. Karol was retaliatory, and the summonses issued to Mr. Karol are baseless.  “People shouldn’t have to worry that when they go home, there’s going to be a knock on the door just because they decided to speak up against the government,” ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. told the press.  The case was widely covered and the subject of a New York Post editorial.

Mr. Karol is represented by ECBA attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Debra Greenberger, and Ashok Chandran. A copy of the complaint can be found here, and additional press coverage of the case can be found here, here, and here.

Article

ECBA Sues on Behalf of Community Organization and the Municipal Art Society to Halt Construction of Mega-Tower On Gerrymandered Zoning Lot

On April 25, 2018, ECBA filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development and the Municipal Art Society of New York seeking to halt the unlawful construction of a 668-foot residential mega-tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue which, if completed, would be grossly out-of-character with the neighborhood and cast long shadows. The lawsuit alleges that the zoning lot upon which the mega-tower would sit—the only justification for the tower’s height—was cobbled together using partial tax lots, in violation of the New York City Zoning Resolution.

On May 14, 2018, plaintiffs secured their first legal victory in the case, obtaining a Stipulation and Order from the Court preventing the developer from using its continued construction efforts to argue that its rights have “vested” – that is, that construction has progressed to the point that the project can no longer be halted. The developer continues work now at its own peril while the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals decides the pending administrative appeal.

The plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Richard D. Emery, Katherine Rosenfeld, and Ashok Chandran. A copy of the complaint is available here, and Politico’s coverage of the dispute can be found here.

Article

Federal Court Orders Law Firm to Produce Documents, Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782

A federal district judge has ordered the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP to disclose documents in response to an ECBA client’s request to obtain discovery in aid of foreign proceedings under 28 U.S.C. s. 1782. The subpoena sought documents for use in open and contemplated proceedings in the British Virgin Islands concerning a dispute over the ownership and management of Future Media Architects, Inc. The decision further clarifies that a law firm may be required to produce documents in aid of a foreign proceeding that involves one of its clients, if discovery is not available from that client directly. The applicant was represented by ECBA attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Ashok Chandran.

A full copy of the decision can be found here.

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