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Family Sues Prison Officials Over Senseless Death of 21 year-old Man from Untreated Appendicitis

The mother of Joshua England, a 21-year-old man who died last year in an Oklahoma prison from untreated appendicitis, sued Oklahoma prison officials and medical workers today for the wrongful, preventable, and needless death of her son.

Joshua was serving a short prison sentence—his first and only one—when, a year ago, he went to the prison health clinic at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center complaining of classic signs of appendicitis, including acute abdominal pain. For a week, prison staff did nothing. As Joshua begged for care, day after day, in five separate written requests for help, the prison staff took no action. No doctor ever examined him. He was never sent to a nearby medical facility for an examination or testing. As his symptoms grew worse and he grew more obviously sick, prison officials still did nothing. On the morning Joshua died, prison medical staff recorded his heart rate at a staggering 158 beats per minute, and still they did nothing. Hours later, Joshua died alone on the floor of his prison cell, of a common and entirely treatable condition. Joshua was set to be released from prison only months after he died.

Joshua’s family is represented by Katherine Rosenfeld and Ali Frick, along with co-counsel Paul DeMuro at Frederic Dorwart Lawyers. You can read a copy of the complaint here. Read the Guardian’s coverage of the case here.

 

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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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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 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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Federal Court Sustains Suit Challenging Over-detentions of People Entitled to Release on Bail from New York City Jails

On September 28, 2018, federal judge William H. Pauley III denied a motion by the city of New York seeking to dismiss a proposed class action lawsuit filed by ECBA and co-counsel Romano & Kuan PLLC on behalf of presumptively innocent criminal defendants held for hours or days in New York City jails despite being entitled to release on bail.  The court held that “Plaintiffs adequately allege that their interest in paying bail and being released after paying bail has been infringed by the City’s deliberate indifference.”  The suit alleges that the City is responsible for unreasonable systemic delays in accepting bail payments and in processing detainees for release once bail is posted.  The complaint details a Kafka-esque system where antiquated technology, inadequate staffing, and indifference conspire to keep thousands of New Yorkers each year in jail for hours or days without any legal basis.  The court’s decision ruled that these allegations are sufficient to claim violations of the United States constitution and New York law.  The case will now proceed to discovery.

To read the Court’s decision, click here.
To read the complaint, click here.

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

ECBA’s Matt Brinckerhoff Debbie Greenberger, and David Lebowitz, along with Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, represent the plaintiffs.

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Settlement Reached in Challenge to Bronx Court Delays

ECBA, The Bronx Defenders, and Morrison & Foerster, LLP announced a settlement of a lawsuit challenging widespread delays in misdemeanor cases in Bronx Criminal Court.

The settlement agreement allows the plaintiffs to monitor the court system for the next four years and to re-open the case if not enough progress is made. It also creates a new mechanism for people charged with misdemeanors to request a speedy trial, at which point the court system will be required to track the progress of their case.

Since the May 2016 filing of the lawsuit, Trowbridge v. DiFiore, the number of misdemeanor cases pending for more than a year in the Bronx dropped from 2,378 to 513.  The number of misdemeanor cases pending for more than two years dropped from 538 to 64.  But more work remains to be done: the proportion of misdemeanor cases that are more than a year old in the Bronx is still twice as high as in any other borough.

“This settlement is only the beginning,” ECBA partner Ilann M. Maazel told the press. “We will be watching the Bronx court system very carefully to make sure that they live up to their promises, achieve parity with the other boroughs, and make speedy trials a reality for everyone in the Bronx.”

Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Ilann M. Maazel, and Doug Lieb represented the plaintiffs.

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16 Years After First ECBA Class Action, Mayor and City Council Agree to Close Rikers Island

Sixteen years after ECBA filed its first class action alleging a pattern and practice of  brutality and poor training, discipline, and investigations of corrections officers at Rikers Island, Mayor De Blasio and the City Council have agreed to shut down Rikers Island once and for all.  In 2001, ECBA filed the original lawsuit, Ingles v. Toro, with co-counsel Legal Aid Society and Sullivan & Cromwell. The case settled in 2003, but the settlement failed to reduce use of force by corrections officers on Rikers Island. As a result, in 2011, ECBA filed a new class action, Nunez v. City of New York, with co-counsel Legal Aid Society and Ropes & Gray, again alleging a pattern and practice of brutality and cover-ups by corrections officers at Rikers Island. Nunez, and a parallel Department of Justice lawsuit, settled in 2015, resulting in thousands of new cameras, a federal monitor, and other sweeping reforms at Rikers. The case also brought to light the fundamental inhumanity and unfairness of the entire institution.

ECBA lawyers involved in the Rikers cases include Jonathan Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, Katherine Rosenfeld, Debra Greenberger, Zoe Salzman, and Vasudha Talla.

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Landmark $5.75 Million Settlement in Rikers Death Case

The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady announced a settlement in the case of Bradley Ballard, whose horrific death at Rikers Island in 2013 was ruled a homicide. The settlement of $5,750,000 is the largest ever entered into by New York City for a death in custody.

Mr. Ballard, 39, was a seriously mentally ill and diabetic man who died in 2013 due to the abuse and cruelty of Department of Correction staff and the medical providers on Rikers Island. From the moment Mr. Ballard arrived at Rikers, on a parole violation for failing to change a report of address, his serious medical and mental health needs were mishandled by the City’s health care contractor at the time, Corizon Health, Inc.  The abuse took a macabre turn when Department of Correction staff illegally shut him in his cell as a rogue punishment for perceived rudeness, leaving him to decompensate without medication or treatment for his schizophrenia and diabetes.  For seven days, until Mr. Ballard died on September 11, 2013, correction and medical staff walked by the locked cell without offering assistance, turned off the water to his cell, and ignored his obvious and fatally deteriorating state until it was too late.

Mr. Ballard’s death was unusual in its gruesomeness, and his suffering was unmatched as reflected by the historic settlement. But the torture he endured resulted from longstanding and known system failures that have plagued Rikers healthcare and supervision of medical and correction staff.  In 2015, Corizon’s contract for healthcare was finally cancelled, though many of the correction staff who so woefully failed in their duties remain in the jails.   Mr. Ballard’s family can only hope that the City can usher in a new era of basic humanity and competence at Rikers.  They hope that the settlement will spark a rigorous review of the cascade of failures and misconduct that caused Mr. Bradley’s premature and painful death.  No other patient, and no family, should have to endure their suffering.

Mr. Ballard’s mother, Beverly Ann Griffin, was represented in this lawsuit by Jonathan S. Abady, Debra L. Greenberger and Hayley Horowitz of ECBA and Jonathan Chasan and Mary Lynne Werlwas of the Legal Aid Society.

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City Settles Case for $750,000 After Rikers Guards Ruptured Inmate’s Spleen

The City of New York has agreed to pay $750,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit brought by ECBA and the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project for the assault and beating of Michael Cruz. In June 2014, multiple officers beat Mr. Cruz so badly that they broke his rib, which eventually pierced his spleen and led to massive internal bleeding. The assault and resulting injuries were life-threatening. Mr. Cruz, who was only 20 years old at the time, was forced to undergo emergency surgery to remove his spleen.

ECBA attorneys Jonathan Abady, Ali Frick, and Sam Shapiro represented Mr. Cruz together with Jonathan S. Chasan and Mary Lynne Werlwas of the Legal Aid Society.

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$3.5 Million Settlement for Rikers Island Plaintiffs

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (ECBA), together with The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, has agreed to settle the individual claims for compensation for the named plaintiffs in the class action Nunez v. New York for a total of over $3.5 million.  Each of the twelve men was severely injured as a result of beatings by guards in the City jails.  All twelve were named plaintiffs in the class action, which was filed in 2012 to halt excessive force by City jail staff.  To read the New York Post’s coverage of the settlement, click here.

This settlement follows on the heels of the major reforms announced last month as part of an agreement with New York City to reform the widespread abuse of prisoners by correction staff on Rikers Island.

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