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Chief Judge Requests Federal Investigation in ECBA Class Action Challenging Illegal Transfers of Rikers Detainees to Albany

Chief Judge McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied New York City’s motion to dismiss a federal civil rights class action brought by four young pretrial detainees who allege that they were illegally transferred to an upstate jail in Albany, where they were beaten, sexually assaulted, and held in solitary confinement without due process, and requested a criminal investigation into the plaintiffs’ allegations.

 

Chief Judge McMahon noted: “The Court is deeply troubled by the allegations . . . .  [T]here is reason to conclude, even at this early stage, that at least some of the horrors that are described” in the complaint “actually took place.”  The Court referred the matter for investigation to federal and state prosecutors’ offices in New York and Albany.  The New York Daily News reported on the Court’s decision.

 

Plaintiffs Davon Washington, Steven Espinal, John Doe, and Pariis Tillery allege that they were suddenly transferred without notice by the City of New York to the Albany County Correctional Facility, cut off from their criminal defense lawyers and their families.  In Albany, they were systematically subjected to brutal beatings and sexual assaults upon their arrival. For the entirety of their time in Albany, they were held in round-the-clock isolation in solitary confinement without meaningful human contact.  The lawsuit seeks to transfer all New York City detainees back from Albany and to prevent the City from sending detainees there in the future.

 

The plaintiffs are represented by Katie Rosenfeld and Doug Lieb of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and Steven Goldman of the Law Offices of Goldman & Associates.

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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.

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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.

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ECBA Attorneys Reach Historic Settlement to Reform Facebook’s Housing Advertising Platform

On March 18, 2019 ECBA attorneys announced a $2,450,000 settlement for clients the National Fair Housing Alliance (“NFHA”), the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence, Inc. (“HOPE”), and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (“FHCGSA”) to settle housing discrimination claims against Facebook, Inc. (“Facebook”).  This agreement will implement far-reaching changes across Facebook’s advertising platform for housing, employment and credit (“HEC”) advertising.  In March, 2018 ECBA filed suit in federal district court alleging that Facebook had created pre-populated lists making it possible for housing advertisers to “exclude” (in Facebook terminology) Facebook users from receiving rental, sales or financing ads because of their race, national origin, sex, disability or family status.

The Facebook settlement sets a new benchmark for assuring that targeted advertising on social media complies with civil rights laws.  Facebook will establish a separate advertising portal for creating HEC ads on Facebook and all Facebook-owned platforms, including Instagram and Messenger.  On this new portal, HEC advertisers will not be able to target Facebook users (1) based on gender, age or multi-cultural affinity; (2) by zip code as all HEC ads must have a minimum geographic radius of 15 miles from a specific address or from the center of a city; and (3) based on categories that describe or appear to relate to personal characteristics or classes protected under federal, state, and local fair housing laws, including, race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, family status, disability, and sexual orientation.

In addition, Facebook will create a new page which will allow consumers to view all housing ads placed on the Facebook platform irrespective of whether the consumer was part of the advertisers’ targeted audience.  NFHA will work with Facebook to develop an in-house fair housing training program for Facebook leadership and staff.  Facebook will provide ECBA’s clients with $500,000 of in-kind advertising to promote fair housing on Facebook.

Finally, Facebook will pay $1.9 million in damages and attorneys’ fees, including to provide future training for housing advertisers on how to use social media in a manner consistent with fair housing laws and to create programming to promote fair housing using social media.

The Plaintiffs are represented by ECBA attorneys Diane L. Houk, Katherine Rosenfeld, and David Berman.

Click here to read NFHA’s press release.

Click here to read the settlement agreement.

Read more about ECBA’s work on this case in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and NPR.

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ECBA Clients File Class Action to Challenge Conditions of Confinement at Brooklyn MDC

February 22, 2019 — Plaintiffs David Scott and Jeremy Cerda filed a class action lawsuit today against Warden Herman Quay in federal court. The case challenges the conditions of confinement at Brooklyn’s federal jail, Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”), during the humanitarian crisis that unfolded over the bitterly cold week of January 27, 2019 to February 3, 2019, after an electrical fire at the jail.

As widely reported and alleged in the complaint, during the crisis, people were left locked in their cells with almost no light or heat for a week. People were confined in near pitch-black darkness. People sat shivering in their beds, huddled under blankets with little or no heat in the cells. The suit also alleges that the lack of light and heat was compounded by an array of other of brutal conditions. People were confined to their cells continuously for days. Hot showers and hot water were suspended or severely limited. Cells with toilets that were not functioning were filled with the smell of decaying feces. People continued to live in their soiled clothing and bedsheets without any laundry. Requests for medical and psychiatric care were ignored. People had no access to regular or hot food. Communication with the outside world—whether by email, phone or visits from lawyers or family—ceased. People struggled to maintain their sanity in a void of information about when the blackout would end. And of course, jail employees were forced to work under these impossible circumstances. The lawsuit also claims that, in response to the crisis, MDC’s Warden, Defendant Herman Quay, engaged in a dereliction of his obligation to provide these most basic minimal living standards to more than a thousand people in his care and custody.  These problems were longstanding and foreseeable, and the Warden failed to assess the infrastructure problems that had long plagued the jail.

ECBA Attorneys Katherine R. Rosenfeld and O. Andrew F. Wilson represent Mr. Scott, Mr. Cerda and the putative class.  To read a copy of the complaint, click here. To read coverage of the crisis in the New York Times, click here.  To read the coverage in Gothamist, click here.

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ECBA Client Jazmine Headley Testifies At City Council Oversight Hearing

ECBA client Jazmine Headley gave powerful testimony to the New York City Council at a City Council hearing on February 4, 2019.  Ms. Headley spoke to lawmakers about her experiences in December 2018 when she was attacked, arrested, and forcibly separated from her one-year-old son, after sitting on the floor in an HRA office as she waited for her appointment.  Ms. Headley advocated for a number of reforms, including “social workers not security officers” and more on-site staff at HRA offices.  Ms. Headley told the Council, “We need to change the way HRA provide services to people when they are most in need.”  Members of the Council commended Ms. Headley for her important testimony, and called her treatment “painful and heartbreaking,” acknowledging that it reflected a “system-wide issue.”

Ms. Headley is represented by ECBA attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Michele Yankson

Watch Ms. Headley’s testimony here. Additional press coverage of Ms. Headley’s testimony can be found here, here and here

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ECBA and Co-Counsel File Suit Against New York City and Albany County for Illegal Transfer of Young Rikers Pretrial Detainees to “Black Site” Albany Jail

Today, four young men who were pretrial detainees at Rikers Island until 2018 when the City of New York abruptly transferred them to an upstate “black site” jail, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York, New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) Commissioner Cynthia Brann, Albany County, Albany County Sheriff Craig D. Apple, Sr., and individual correctional officers.

Since 2015, when it banned solitary confinement for inmates ages 21 and younger, the City and DOC have illegally rendered dozens of young Rikers inmates to Albany County Correctional Facility (the “Albany County Jail”).  Plaintiffs in this case were taken by DOC from Rikers to the Albany County Jail.  Upon arrival, they were systematically subjected to brutal beatings and sexual assaults by jail guards.  Plaintiffs suffered severe injuries, including a perforated eardrum, concussion, rectal bleeding, black eyes, and lacerations.  For the entirety of their time at the Albany County Jail, the Rikers detainees were held in solitary confinement, cut off from meaningful human contact and isolated from family, adequate medical care, and their lawyers.

Plaintiff Davon Washington is a 22-year-old man who resides in the Bronx, New York.  He was released from custody on December 24, 2018.  Plaintiff Steven Espinal is a 19-year-old man, and Plaintiff Pariis Tillery is a 25-year-old man, both of whom are still detained in solitary confinement at the Albany County Jail pending trial.  Plaintiff John Doe is a 24-year-old man who was previously detained at the Albany County Jail and is now serving a sentence in state custody.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks injunctive relief and damages.  Plaintiffs Espinal and Tillery seek to be transferred out of the Albany County Jail, where they fear daily for their safety.  Plaintiffs are represented by Katie Rosenfeld and Douglas E. Lieb of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and Steven Goldman of the Law Office of Goldman & Associates.

The complaint is available here.

Read the New York Times coverage here.

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ECBA Represents Jazmine Headley, Brooklyn Mother Wrongfully Attacked and Arrested by HRA and NYPD While Holding Her Toddler Son

ECBA is proud to represent Jazmine Headley, a 23 year-old Brooklyn woman who was subjected to appalling mistreatment by HRA and the NYPD at a Brooklyn HRA office last week, and is now speaking out on her own behalf. After taking the day off of work to address a problem with her son’s childcare voucher, and waiting hours to be seen, Ms. Headley sat on the floor next to her son’s stroller.  In response, HRA and NYPD officers grabbed her, attacked her, ripped her son out of her arms, arrested her, and separated her from her son for several days. The incident was caught on cellphone videos. All charges were dropped, and both the Mayor and HRA Commissioner ultimately issued public apologies to Ms. Headley.  However, in her recent interview with the New York Times, Ms. Headley discussed how this horrific mistreatment is unfortunately all too common for New Yorkers in this situation.

ECBA Partner Katie Rosenfeld represents Ms. Headley, along with ECBA attorney Michele Yankson.

Read coverage of Ms. Headley’s case in the New York Times here.

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Inmate at Auburn Correctional Facility Sues Prison Personnel after Brutal Assault by Correctional Officer

ECBA filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Matthew Raymond, an inmate at Attica Correctional Facility, against the Superintendent of Auburn Correctional Facility, eight Auburn correctional officers, and two Auburn medical personnel.  ECBA’s Katie Rosenfeld and Emma L. Freeman represent Mr. Raymond.

The suit—filed in the Northern District of New York—charges that, on September 14, 2016, Mr. Raymond was viciously assaulted by Lieutenant Troy Mitchell, an employee of New York State’s Auburn Correctional Facility.  Mitchell—a notorious and violent abuser who has cost the State of New York nearly one million dollars in settlement payouts—took Mr. Raymond into a private room in Auburn’s medical unit.  With Mr. Raymond shackled and immobile, Mitchell cursed at Mr. Raymond and beat him about the head, neck, chest, and groin, using his fists and officers’ baton.  Throughout the attack, five other officers, including Sgt. Thomas Harte and Correction Officers Charles Thomas, Thomas Phillips, and Thomas Giancola, stood by and watched.

The assault left Mr. Raymond with severe and permanent injuries.  He will never be able to urinate on his own again and must be permanently catheterized.  He may not be able to father children.  He suffers from near constant kidney and urinary tract infections.  And he suffers from what appear to be neurological symptoms that impact his ability to walk.

As the suit details, in the aftermath of the assault and in retaliation for Mr. Raymond’s decision to file grievances against the officers involved, medical care personnel at Auburn ignored Mr. Raymond’s serious medical needs and neglected to provide him with remotely adequate care.  Only months after the beating was Mr. Raymond taken to an outside medical facility and given the care he required.

Although Mr. Raymond attempted to use Auburn’s internal grievance procedure to spur an investigation of the assault, Auburn personnel papered over the incident and, instead, levied false disciplinary charges against Mr. Raymond that led to weeks in solitary confinement.

“For decades, DOCCS employee Lt. Mitchell systematically abused prisoners in the New York State prisons,” said Katie Rosenfeld, a partner at ECBA.  “He also corrupted other officers to join this abuse.  DOCCS’ Office of Special Investigation repeatedly turned a blind eye to the truth.  OSI always credited Lt. Mitchell over the reports of prisoners.  DOCCS and OSI must stop covering it up when serial abusers in the ranks hurt people like our client Matt Raymond.  Brutal abuse is not part of the sentence that courts hand down to people in New York State.”

“This lawsuit seeks to remedy the vicious attack perpetrated by Troy Mitchell and his cohort against Matthew—and DOCCS’s long history of ignoring predators in its midst,” said Emma L. Freeman.  “It is long past time for state facilities to take meaningful responsibility for correctional officers tasked with caring for inmates.”

To learn more, read coverage from the NY Daily News here and coverage from the Times Union here.  The complaint can be found here.

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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.

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