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Family of Jamel Floyd Holds Funeral Today, and Calls for Justice, One Month After His Untimely Death in Brooklyn Federal Prison

On June 3, 2020, Jamel Floyd’s life was tragically cut short while he was a prisoner in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He was only 35 years old.

Mr. Floyd had been looking forward to release from prison in just a few months, and to the start of a whole new chapter in his life.

Mr. Floyd died after Federal Bureau of Prisons correction officers pepper-sprayed him while he was locked in his prison cell, and then subjected him to excessive force while removing him from his cell. Witnesses report that officers blasted so much pepper spray into Mr. Floyd’s cell that the entire unit was impacted, with other people having to place wet towels under their own cell doors so they could breathe. After Mr. Floyd lost consciousness, officers strapped his unresponsive body to a restraint chair and removed him from MDC’s special housing unit.

Mr. Floyd was never seen alive again.

Today, Mr. Floyd’s family and friends—his mother, father, brother, fiancé, and extended family—are gathering for his funeral in Hempstead, New York, where they will commemorate his life. Before June 3rd, they were eagerly planning for Mr. Floyd’s parole appearance and possible release from prison in the fall.

Mr. Floyd’s brother, Ramel Floyd, was hoping to start a new moving truck business with his brother later this year. Just days before Jamel Floyd’s death, Ramel spoke with his brother about their plans. “Jamel was super intelligent, he was a jailhouse lawyer and was also studying while he was in prison to get the licenses he needed for our new business,” Ramel says. “Everything was lining up for the next part of my brother’s life—he was so close to getting out and then they took him away from us.”

Mr. Floyd’s mother, Donna Mays, was counting down the weeks until Mr. Floyd’s parole date. Ms. Mays could not wait to see Mr. Floyd reunited with his entire family in Hempstead later this year. “I am getting married soon and Jamel was supposed to walk me down the aisle,” Ms. Mays says. “Now, because of what they did to my son, I am planning his funeral instead.”

The MDC and Federal Bureau of Prisons must respond to calls for justice in the wake of Jamel Floyd’s untimely death, from his family, elected officials, and the millions of people who have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. The BOP must act swiftly to release Mr. Floyd’s medical and institutional records to his family without further delay, including the video taken of the use of force against him, and allow a prompt and impartial investigation into Mr. Floyd’s death.

“The violent and senseless death of Jamel Floyd, yet another young Black man who died in the custody of law enforcement—this time in a federal jail facility—is disturbing,” said Katherine Rosenfeld, one of the Floyd and Mays family’s attorneys. “This heartbroken family deserves truthful answers about what happened to Jamel Floyd.”

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez stated: “Time and again, MDC has exhibited lack of accountability and allowed conditions that endanger the lives of those detained there. The recent death of Jamel Floyd fits this pattern and initial review suggests it could have been prevented. I will continue pressing the Department of Justice for answers and work to hold MDC accountable. We need a complete and swift investigation.”

Congressman Jerry Nadler described initial reports of Mr. Floyd’s death as “horrifying” and immediately called for a Congressional investigation of Mr. Floyd’s death.

Jabari Brisport, candidate for New York State Senate District 25, which includes MDC, stated: “Jamel should still be with us today, but the people responsible for his caretaking gave him an unlawful death sentence at MDC. As a person suffering from asthma, he managed to avoid COVID-19, only to be tragically murdered by correction officers using pepper spray. I stand in solidarity with the Floyd family, and would like to amplify their calls for the release of medical records, and for a prompt investigation into his death.”

Mr. Floyd’s family wishes to express their gratitude to the thousands of people who have supported their campaign for #JusticeforJamel, attended the vigils outside the MDC, and contributed to Jamel’s funeral expenses. They also thank the many people confined in the MDC who have come forward to tell the truth about what happened to Jamel.

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Federal Judge Sanctions MDC for Spoliation of Evidence in COVID-19 Class Action Lawsuit

On Tuesday, June 10, U.S. District Judge Rachel Kovner issued her ruling on the motion filed by ECBA and co-counsel the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, Alexander A. Reinert, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, for preliminary injunction in Chunn v. Edge, 20 Civ. 1590 (E.D.N.Y.), a class action lawsuit challenging the response of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) to the COVID-19 pandemic. While denying the request for immediate relief, which would have released medically vulnerable inmates from the MDC, Judge Kovner also found that responses to requests for medical care had been slow at times and the facility had not isolated all inmates who exhibited COVID-like symptoms. Significantly, Judge Kovner drew an adverse inference against the MDC based on its spoliation of paper records of requests for medical care after the lawsuit was filed and imposed sanctions against MDC. “The court’s sanction of the MDC for spoliating evidence during the litigation is a reminder that prison officials are not above the rules,” said ECBA attorney Katherine Rosenfeld, who, along with fellow ECBA attorneys Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovich, represents petitioners and the putative class. You can read the full Law.com article here.

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The Journal News Features ECBA’s Mamaroneck Race Discrimination Lawsuit 

On June 11, 2020, Sophie Grosserode of the Westchester/Rockland Journal News featured ECBA’s lawsuit on behalf of a Mamaroneck family against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, which alleges that the School District failed to address years of egregious student-on-student racial harassment.  The article highlights prior allegations that Mamaroneck tolerated racism in its schools and emphasizes that numerous families have since reached out to the firm to recount their own experiences of abuse and harassment.

Plaintiffs A.A., B.A., and C.A. are represented by ECBA attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma L Freeman. Read a copy of the Complaint here.

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Westchester Students File Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Mamaroneck Union Free School District For Failing to Address Egregious Racial Harassment

May 18, 2020 – Today, A.A.—a 15-year-old African-American teenager—and his 14-year-old sister, B.A., filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, Mamaroneck High School, and their employees for their indifference to years of racial harassment. The lawsuit (filed anonymously to protect the children’s privacy), alleges school administrators took inadequate steps to ameliorate pervasive racism.

The Mamaroneck Union Free School District has been the subject of multiple investigations by state and federal agencies for racial discrimination and animosity—including by the federal Office of Civil Rights and the State Education Department. Despite these investigations and numerous pleas from parents at School Board and Town Hall meetings, the lawsuit alleges the Defendants have taken insufficient steps to address the District’s severe racism problem.

After years of abuse, when he was thirteen, A.A. asked his Mamaroneck Middle School guidance counselor: “How many times is enough for the N-word to be mentioned?” The lawsuit recounts a litany of racial harassment spanning nearly a decade, including an incident in B.A.’s second-grade when a student shouted, “Africans Are Annoying!” as other students laughed. In seventh grade, one of A.A.’s classmates mimicked whipping another, and said: “I’m whipping you like a n***r.” In ninth grade, A.A.’s classmates ask him if he was a “BBC,” meaning “big black c**k.” Other classmates placed microscope covers over their heads during Biology class, stating that they were in the KKK and telling A.A. that he could not join.

The family reported incident after incident, but the lawsuit alleges that administrators failed to take adequate steps to address the abuse. Instead, the case argues, they offered platitudes about diversity, claimed students were going through phases, or insisted those students were otherwise good people.

O. Andrew F. Wilson, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, said: “Racism in our schools is intolerable. And superficial efforts to address systemic problems are not enough. We must hold our educators responsible not only to act, but to act effectively.”

“What happened to A.A. and B.A. should never happen to any child. Racist abuse is impermissible everywhere, but it is especially traumatic in schools, where young children like A.A. and B.A. internalize the cruel words of their peers. Defendants’ inexplicable choice to accept rampant bigotry is not just unlawful—it is immoral,” said ECBA attorney Emma L. Freeman.

Reporting on the lawsuit appears in The Loop, here, in Lohud, here, in Black Westchester, here, and in Patch, here.

A.A. and B.A. are represented by ECBA attorneys Andrew Wilson and Emma L. Freeman.  You can read a copy of the Complaint here.

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New York Court Strikes Down Unlawful Airbnb Tickets

On May 8, 2020, a New York state court ruled that ECBA client Stanley “Skip” Karol may rent out a portion of his Brooklyn home through Airbnb. The court directed the City to return the thousands of dollars in fines it had levied against Mr. Karol and to “[l]eave the poor guy alone.” The City had ticketed Mr. Karol for renting out his basement through Airbnb. ECBA attorneys filed a case challenging the legality of those tickets, and the Court ruled in Mr. Karol’s favor.

A full copy of the decision can be found here. Reporting on the decision appears in the New York Daily News here and in Politico here and here.

Mr. Karol is represented by ECBA attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Debra L. Greenberger, and Andrew K. Jondahl.

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ECBA Client Files Religious Head Covering Class Action Against Yonkers

April 8, 2020 – Together with the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA), filed a class action civil rights law lawsuit in federal court seeking an injunction to block the Yonkers Police Department (YPD) from removing arrestees’ religious head coverings for mug shots and while in custody.

The lawsuit claims that the YPD maintains a policy that forces arrestees to remove their religious head coverings while in custody—sometimes for a mug shot that is kept forever, visible to anyone with access to the YPD’s records, and sometimes for no reason at all. The YPD enforces this policy against all arrestees who wear religious head coverings—even when those head coverings, like a hijab, turban, or yarmulke, leave the entire face unobstructed.

CAIR-NY and ECBA filed the lawsuit this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that the YPD removal policy violates the New York State Constitution, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  As the lawsuit notes, municipalities across the country allow arrestees to retain religious head covering for their booking photos.  In addition, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles allows applicants to retain religious head coverings for driver’s license photos; the U.S. State Department maintains the same accommodation for passport photos.

In a statement, the CAIR-NY Litigation Director, Ahmed Mohamed, said: “It is unacceptable that the City of Yonkers would cling to a policy that degrades and humiliates Muslim women, and others, by forcing them to remove their head covering against their sincerely held religious beliefs. This policy is illegal. Ms. Malkawi should be applauded for her courage to step forward and fight this unjust policy that has caused her and many others unimaginable pain and suffering.”

“The Yonkers policy is out of step with the Constitution, federal law, and a growing consensus of national law departments that all respect people’s rights to wear religious head covering,” said ECBA attorney O. Andrew F. Wilson.

“There is no legitimate need for law enforcement to remove religious head coverings for mug shots or any other purpose,” said ECBA attorney Emma L. Freeman.  “In 2020, the state should not be coercing people in its custody to violate their religious beliefs.”

Ihsan Malkawi, a practicing Muslim-American woman, brings the case on behalf of herself and others impacted by the policy.  While in the YPD’s custody, Ms. Malkawi was forced to endure a full day and night without her hijab, and was paraded uncovered past numerous strangers—many men—throughout the YPD’s facilities and while in court for her arraignment.

According to the complaint, “Yonkers Police Department (YPD) officers instructed Ihsan Malkawi . . . to remove her hijab so they could photograph her. Ms. Malkawi pleaded with them not to remove it.  She explained that her hijab—a headscarf she wears daily to cover her hair and signify modesty and devotion to the Muslim faith—is not a fashion accessory, but an essential component of her religion. The officers did not listen.  They told Ms. Malkawi—falsely—that the law required her to remove her hijab.  Distraught by this coerced violation of her religious practice, yet fearful of the legal repercussions if she did not comply, Ms. Malkawi wept while she did as she was told.”

For more information, read coverage from The Huffington Post, NBC News, Lohud and The Union Journal. Read the CAIR-NY’s press release here.

Ms. Malkawi is represented by ECBA attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman.

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Statement of Counsel for the Former Bloomberg Staffers Who Filed a Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit Today Against Mike Bloomberg 2020

“Today our clients, three former field organizers for Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign who worked in Georgia, Utah, and Washington state, filed a nationwide class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the campaign broke its promise to provide its field staffers the opportunity to work on the general election campaign for Mike Bloomberg 2020. The complaint speaks for itself. Although our clients would like to speak publicly about their experiences, they are potentially subject to a confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with Mike Bloomberg 2020. We respectfully request that the Bloomberg campaign release our clients and the other field staffers from that agreement, even though it may not be enforceable.”

The field staffers who filed the suit, Alexis Sklair, Nathaniel Brown, and Sterling Rettke, are represented by Peter Romer-Friedman of Gupta Wessler PLLC, and Ilann M. Maazel and David Berman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

To learn more, visit our website here.

Read coverage by The New York Times, Politico, Huffington Post, and Axios.

Contacts:

Peter Romer-Friedman, Principal, Gupta Wessler PLLC,
peter@guptawessler.com

Ilann M. Maazel, Partner, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP,
imaazel@ecbalaw.com

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ECBA Attorneys Reach Settlement in Midwood, Brooklyn Housing Discrimination Case

On behalf of their clients Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and five African American testers, ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk and Scout Katovich negotiated a $300,000 settlement of a race and religion housing discrimination case. The federal lawsuit alleged that Defendants ZP Realty Capital, Zev Pollak, and others were discriminating when renting apartments at a building located in the predominantly white Midwood neighborhood.  The plaintiffs alleged that none of them were shown apartments even though Defendants showed white testers vacant apartments. They also alleged that Mr. Pollak referred to the apartments as being in a “Jewish building.”  The settlement requires the defendants to institute fair housing practices, including to publicly advertise when apartments are available to rent.

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