Article

Family of Young Disabled Man Who Died in New York State Group Home Brings Federal Civil Rights Suit

This morning, the family of C.B., a young man with cognitive disabilities who passed away in April 2018, filed a civil rights lawsuit against employees of a group home run by New York’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (“OPWDD”). C.B. was found dead in his room at the Valley Ridge Center for Intensive Treatment on the morning of April 9, 2018, after Ashley Sessions, a Valley Ridge employee, failed to check in on him during the night as required.

C.B. died from pulmonary embolism and heart failure. The day before his death, C.B. and his mother told State employees he couldn’t breathe. The State ignored him. C.B.’s arms and legs were massively swollen with fluid; he gained 50 pounds in a single year; he exhibited the telltale signs of heart failure. But Staff not only did nothing to help him; they repeatedly encouraged him to drink more fluids, contributing to his death.

Even as Sessions failed to check on C.B. as required during the night of his death, C.B. asphyxiated on fluids in his lungs. Sessions then lied to the police to try to cover up her misconduct. She ultimately plead guilty to the crime of filing false statements.

C.B.’s mother, J.M., federal filed a lawsuit alleging that Valley Ridge employees were deliberately indifferent to C.B.’s health and welfare and that the little medical care they did provide was woefully deficient.

“C.B.’s tragic death should never have happened,” C.B.’s family’s attorney, Ilann M. Maazel, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, said. “State employees ignored the obvious signs that a disabled man’s health was rapidly deteriorating, then left him alone to die a horrible death in his bedroom. It’s unconscionable.”

“C.B.’s dire condition was plain to see,” added Samuel Shapiro, another attorney representing the family, “but the staff here just didn’t care enough to look.”

Read the complaint here.

ECBA’s Ilann M. Maazel, Samuel Shapiro, and Ali Frick represent C.B.’s family.

Article

Settlement of Jazmine Headley’s Civil Rights Lawsuit: City of New York Will Pay $625,000

In December 2019, ECBA reached a $625,000 settlement in the case of Jazmine Headley, an ECBA client whose one-year-old son was forcibly yanked from her arms by the City of New York’s Human Resources Administration (“HRA”) employees, NYPD officers, and security guards working for FJC Security Services simply because Ms. Headley was sitting on the floor waiting for her benefits appointment.  The Defendants assaulted Ms. Headley, brandished a taser at her and her young son, charged her with several crimes, and detained her on Rikers Island for days.  In light of Ms. Headley’s and her son’s ordeal, the City Council has passed various bills designed to remedy the City’s systemic abuse of HRA clients.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill DeBlasio said: “Ms. Headley came to the city seeking help, and we failed to treat her with the dignity and respect she deserved. While this injustice should never have happened, it forced a reckoning with how we treat our most vulnerable.”

“Through her intelligence, bravery, and grace, Jazmine Headley turned the worst ordeal of her life—and of any parent’s—into an opportunity for change for the entire city,” said ECBA partner Katie Rosenfeld.  “By testifying at City Council in support of new laws based on her experience and by bringing a civil rights lawsuit, Ms. Headley has carried a heavy burden over the past year.  But from day one, Ms. Headley insisted that this incident was not just about her, but about the dignity of every young woman of color raising her family with immense love and hard work, in a difficult world.  We hope Ms. Hadley’s moral leadership inspires the City to make good on its promises of reform.”

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Emma Freeman.  The New York Times and AP coverage of the settlement can be found here and here.

Article

NBC News features OSU survivor Stephen Snyder-Hill

OSU survivor Stephen Snyder-Hill was profiled by NBC News. Snyder-Hill, a prominent LGBTQ activist and a military veteran, is now advocating for sexual assault survivors in a case against The Ohio State University. The federal lawsuit alleges rape, assault and molestation by former OSU team doctor Richard Strauss over the course of decades. The complaint to Snyder-Hill., et al. v. The Ohio State University, 18-CV-00736, is available here.

“It’s about all the sexual assault survivors that are out there that might not have a voice,” Synder-Hill said to NBC News. “This is our fight, not just my fight.”

Snyder-Hill and over 80 other survivors are represented by Ilann M. Maazel, Debra Greenberger, and Marissa Benavides of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, Scott E. Smith of Scott Elliot Smith LPA, and Adele Kimmel and Alexandra Brodsky of Public Justice. More on the case is available at www.osusurvivors.com.

Article

ECBA Files Federal Class Action Challenging False Arrests of Visitors to Rikers Island

On December 3, 2019, ECBA and co-counsel Romano & Kuan PLLC filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of visitors to Rikers Island who were baselessly arrested and accused of smuggling synthetic marijuana, known as “K2,” onto Rikers Island.  All five lead Plaintiffs were visiting loved ones on Rikers Island and brought books with them, either as gifts to the inmates or to read themselves while they waited.  All five were baselessly arrested and prosecuted on accusations of transporting K2 on the pages of their books.

All charges against the lead Plaintiffs were dropped at their initial court appearances following their arraignments.  Even once charges were dropped, all lead Plaintiffs were banned from all City correction facilities for anywhere from six months to one year, and the inmates whom they were visiting were denied the ability to have contact visits. The Complaint alleges that the City has a practice of making these wrongful arrests of persons who have done nothing more than bring a book to an incarcerated loved one.

To read the complaint, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Daily News, click here.

ECBA’s Matt Brinckerhoff, Earl Ward, and David Berman, along with Julia Kuan of Romano and Kuan, represent the plaintiffs.

Article

43 Survivors File New Complaint Against Ohio State

November 7, 2019 – 43 additional survivors of the ongoing sexual assault scandal at The Ohio State University (OSU) filed a new lawsuit alleging years of rape, assault and molestation by former team doctor Richard Strauss. The lawsuit alleges that OSU’s “culture of institutional indifference to the rights and safety of its students has permitted serial sexual predators and harassers to thrive at the university for the last four decades.”

The plaintiffs in this case are represented by Ilann M. Maazel, Debra Greenberger, and Marissa Benavides of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, Scott E. Smith and Brian Noethlich of Scott Elliot Smith LPA, and Adele Kimmel and Alexandra Brodsky of Public Justice. This is the second case brought by these law firms against OSU and they collectively represent over 80 survivors. More on the case is available at www.osusurvivors.com.

Press release is available here. To read the Washington Post’s coverage of the case, click here.

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 Clients Win Article 78 Petition Requiring NYPD to Produce Fare Evasion Data

On September 23, 2019 state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron granted an Article 78 Petition filed by ECBA on behalf of clients Council Member Rory I. Lancman and the Community Service Social of New York (“CSSNY”).   The order compels  the New York City Police Department to disclose statistics, which are required to be made public by City Law, regarding arrests made and civil summonses issued to individuals for fare evasion at each of the 472 subway stations in New York City.  These statistics, which will provide the public with an important tool ensure accountability from the Police Department.

After CSSNY issued a detailed report reflecting that the vast majority of arrests and summonses for subway fare evasion occur in poor African-American communities, Council Member Lancman introduced legislation requiring the Police Department to release quarterly reports detailing the number of arrests under New York Penal Law § 165.15 and summonses under MTA Rule of Conduct § 1050.4 that were issued for fare evasion at each subway station throughout New York City and to break down the data by various demographic criteria, such as the race, gender, and age range of each person arrested or summonsed.  Council Member’s Lancman’s proposed bill was unanimously approved by the City Council and went into law as New York City Administrative Code § 14-172 in January 2018.  Since the law’s enactment, the Police Department had brazenly refused to comply with its obligations.  Yesterday’s ruling will ensure that the City will receive the transparency that the City Council has required and that the public deserves.

Coverage of the decision in the New York Post is here.

The Petitioners are represented by ECBA attorneys Richard D. Emery and David Berman.

Article

ECBA Files Notice of Intent to Sue Police Officers Who Shot and Killed Osaze Osagie

ECBA, along with co-counsel, filed a Notice of Claim today on behalf of Sylvester and Iyunolu Osagie, the parents of 29-year-old Osaze Osagie, indicating their intent to sue the Pennsylvania State College Police Department (“SCPD”) and the officers who six months ago shot and killed their then 29-year old son. Sylvester Osagie asked the police to help him find Osaze, so that he could secure treatment for his suicidal son who was suffering a serious mental health crisis. Instead of helping Osaze, an officer shot him three times in the back, killing him.

“The mental health processes in place failed our son. The police procedures also failed our son. And the officers who responded to our son’s apartment failed him as well. We are bringing this case to make sure Osaze is the last person to die under such circumstances,” said Sylvester Osagie.

“Osaze would still be alive today if the police had followed standard procedures for handling mental health emergencies. This tragic loss of life didn’t have to happen; Osaze Osagie did not have to die.” said ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr.

Read the press release and coverage of the filing here, here, here and here.

ECBA partners Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Elizabeth Saylor represent the family along with Pennsylvania lawyers Andrew Shubin and Kathleen Yurchak.

Article

Jazmine Headley Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against The City Of New York

Today, ECBA client Jazmine Headley filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York and its Human Resources Administration (“HRA”) peace officers and New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) officers who attacked and arrested her at the DeKalb Job Center on December 7, 2018.  Simply because Ms. Headley was sitting on the floor waiting for her appointment, these officers brandished a taser in Ms. Headley’s face, forcibly yanked her one-year-old son from her arms, charged her with several crimes, and detained her on Rikers Island for days.  Her experience is just one example of HRA security staff’s widespread abuse of New Yorkers who seek assistance with their public benefits.

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Emma Freeman.  The Complaint is available here.  A press release about the filing is available here.

To learn more, read coverage from the New York Law Journal, Politico, the New York Post, and Patch.

Article

ECBA Partner Zoe Salzman Quoted in Law360

ECBA Partner Zoe Salzman was quoted in a Law360 article discussing the impact of a new case holding that New York’s CPLR 7515 does not prohibit arbitration of sexual harassment claims. “It’s just a fact when there’s an arbitration clause in an employment discrimination dispute, the company gets to keep that dispute out of the public eye,” Salzman said. “This may be the only decision analyzing 7515, but it’s not the only decision that reads arbitration clauses very broadly in a very pro-employer way, and in a way that greatly undermines the ability of employees to vindicate their rights and to protect other employees from future discrimination.” But Salzman noted that legal arguments can still be made in support of the statute and that public sentiment is moving away from the use of arbitration pacts. “I think there is a shift going on right now and the state legislatures are saying very strongly what I think the people of the state are saying very strongly — which is that they think those agreements are unconscionable and against public policy and they don’t want to see them,” Salzman said.

.