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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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ECBA, Legal Aid File Civil Rights Lawsuit on Behalf of Client who was Illegally Shackled During Labor and After the Delivery of Her Son

On March 12, 2020, ECBA and co-counsel the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit against the City of New York and several NYPD officers on behalf of an anonymous woman, “Jane Doe,” who was arrested and shackled when she was forty weeks and two days pregnant. The minor charges on which Ms. Doe was arrested were ultimately dismissed.

NYPD officers forced Ms. Doe to labor alone in a holding cell at the NYPD’s 75th Precinct in Brooklyn while they celebrated at a holiday party. When officers finally agreed to seek medical care for Ms. Doe, they handcuffed and shackled her to an ambulance gurney and hospital bed. They removed the restraints only just before Ms. Doe delivered her newborn son and replaced them almost immediately after. After her baby was transferred to the NICU, officers would not permit Ms. Doe to visit him without first shackling her legs together.

Medical experts and correctional experts unanimously agree that pregnant women should not be shackled by law enforcement absent the most extraordinary circumstances. Such extraordinary circumstances are limited to situations where a woman poses a significant risk of injury to herself or others that cannot be addressed by less restrictive means.

To read the complaint, click here.

To read a press release about the lawsuit, click here.

To read coverage in the New York Daily News, click here, in the Guardian, click here, or in the Gothamist/WNYC, click here.

ECBA’s Katie Rosenfeld and Andrew Jondahl, along with Anne Oredeko and Anthony Posada of the Legal Aid Society, represent Ms. Doe.

 

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Federal Court Permits Prison Death Case to Go Forward

A judge in the Western District of Oklahoma rejected a motion to dismiss filed by state prison officials seeking to end a lawsuit by the family of a 21 year-old young man who died in prison from untreated appendicitis. The court held that Joshua England’s family could continue its claim that prison officials violated Joshua’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by ignoring his repeated, anguished pleas for medical help over the course of days, before he died alone on the floor of his prison cell. The court also permitted all of the state law claims to go forward. And the court refused to dismiss the senior official defendants – the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the warden of the prison – from the case. Now Joshua’s family can move forward with seeking accountability for Joshua’s untimely, entirely preventable death of a common and treatable illness.

ECBA attorneys Katherine Rosenfeld and Ali Frick represent Joshua’s family, along with co-counsel Paul DeMuro and Henry A. “Hank” Meyer, III.

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ECBA Files Federal Civil Rights Suit Against Prison Officials for Abusive Conditions Leading to a 22-Year-Old Man’s Suicide

On February 24, 2020, ECBA filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Darlene McDay and Temple McDay, the mother and grandmother of Dante Taylor, a 22-year-old man who committed suicide in Wende Correctional Facility on October 7, 2017.   As detailed in the complaint, Mr. Taylor—who had a history of depression and suicide attempts—was confined in isolation for long stretches at Wende, and providers and staff ignored many glaring risk factors for his suicide in the months leading up to his death.  Mr. Taylor was brutally beaten by Wende correction officers the night before he died, thrown into isolation, and denied access to a mental health care provider. Mr. Taylor’s is one of many suicides that have occurred in recent years at Wende and other facilities run by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“Dante Taylor’s death at age 22 was foreseeable and preventable,” said Katie Rosenfeld, one of Mr. Taylor’s lawyers.  “Dante’s family calls for an open and full investigation into the circumstances of his death, and seeks accountability for the vicious, extra-legal beating by the rogue correction officers that triggered his death.”

“We hope this lawsuit promotes public awareness of DOCCS’ failure to improve medical and mental health care for people in prison, even in the face of an epidemic of suicides by people confined in our state’s prisons, particularly people who are in solitary confinement conditions,” said Marissa Benavides, an ECBA associate working on the case.

To read the complaint, click here. To read coverage of the suit in the Washington Post, click here, and to read coverage by the Associated Press, click here.

ECBA’s Katie Rosenfeld and Marissa Benavides represent the McDay family in the suit.

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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.

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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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