Historic Agreement Reached on Jail Brutality at Rikers Island

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady (ECBA), together with The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project and Ropes & Gray, as well as the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) have reached an agreement with New York City to reform the widespread abuse of prisoners by correction staff on Rikers Island.  This agreement would settle Nunez v. New York, the 2012 class action brought to halt excessive force by City jail staff.  DOJ joined as a plaintiff in December 2014.

Today, the plaintiffs, DOJ, and the City have notified the Court the outlines of the agreement which would become an enforceable federal consent decree, monitored by an independent correctional expert. The Agreement would require the Department of Correction to implement new policies and practices to curb the rampant misuse of force which has plagued Rikers Island for the past many decades.

Details about these reforms are in the attached letter to the Court, sent by the Department of Justice with all parties’ agreement.

The Agreement must be approved by the Department of Justice and Mayor’s Office before it is submitted to the Court for a hearing and approval if the Court finds it fair, reasonable, and adequate.

“This is an historic agreement to fix the long-standing problem of excessive force which has plagued Rikers Island for decades,” said Jonathan S. Abady of ECBA, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The agreement is the product of extraordinary work on the part of all parties,” said Abady.  “What could have been an adversarial process was converted into a collaborative enterprise where everyone embraced the need for lasting reform and then committed themselves to measures that would achieve that,” he added.

To read the New York Times‘ coverage, click here and here.


ECBA and Legal Aid File Lawsuit on Behalf of Rikers Inmate Beaten Nearly to Death

Together with the Legal Aid Society, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Michael Cruz, who was beaten by correction officers at Rikers Island so brutally that he suffered massive internal bleeding and was required to undergo emergency surgery to remove his spleen. Cruz, who was only 20 years old at the time, was assaulted by multiple correction officers after asking for a mental health evaluation prior to being sent into solitary confinement. Apparently annoyed by his request, multiple officers–with the tacit approval of a captain–repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Cruz, leaving him with a fractured rib. After weeks of complaints about his pain, Mr. Cruz was finally taken to the hospital, where his massive internal bleeding was discovered. Hospital staff informed him that if he had been left in his cell untreated much longer, Mr. Cruz could have died.

Mr. Cruz is represented by ECBA attorneys Jonathan Abady, Samuel Shapiro, and Ali Frick, and by the Legal Aid Society. Read the New York Post’s coverage here. To read the full complaint, click here.


ECBA Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Mentally Disabled Rikers Inmate Beaten and Neglected by Correctional Officers

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, together with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of Jose Guadalupe, a mentally disabled inmate, who was severely beaten by Rikers Island guards on September 2, 2014. The assault occurred after Mr. Guadelupe voiced his objection to guards ripping down family photos and magazine clippings from the walls of his cell. Even though Mr. Guadalupe was handcuffed and not a threat, the four officers responded by throwing Mr. Guadalupe to the ground, where they repeatedly punched him in the head and kicked him in the back, legs, and ribs. Following the beating, Mr. Guadalupe was left in a hot cell for nearly six hours, going in and out of consciousness, before he was finally transported to a nearby medical center where he was treated for injuries including a concussion, bruises to his ribs, facial swelling, lower back pain, dizziness, and cuts to his lip and right eyebrow. He was confined to a wheelchair for three weeks after the assault. Mr. Guadelupe is represented by ECBA attorneys Jonathan S. Abady and Zoe Salzman, along with Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project’s Jonathan S. Chasen and Mary Lynne Werlwas.

To read more, click here.


Emery Celli Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Rikers Inmate Who Died After Seven Days in Solitary Confinement Without Medical Care

ECBA, together with the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project (“PRP”) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Beverly Ann Griffin, the mother of Bradley Ballard, a 39-year-old man suffering from schizophrenia and diabetes, who died on Rikers Island last year after he was improperly placed in solitary confinement and then inexplicably denied food, water, his medication, and other medical and mental health care for seven days. The City Medical Examiner ruled Mr. Ballard’s death a homicide. The lawsuit names as defendants the City of New York; several current and former high-ranking Department of Correction Officials; Corizon, the private corporation responsible for health care at Rikers Island; and the health care and correction workers responsible for Mr. Ballard’s care during the period of neglect. In an emotional press conference, Ms. Griffin told the City, “You are there to correct the inmate, not to destroy him.” Ms. Griffin is represented by ECBA’s Jonathan S. Abady and Hayley Horowitz, along with PRP’s Jonathan Chasan and Mary Lynne Werlwas.

To read the Complaint, click here. To read the New York Times’ story on this case, click here. The New York Daily News covered Mr. Ballard’s case and the City’s refusal to defend Corizon here.


City Agrees to $2.75 million Settlement in Death of Rikers Island Inmate, Ronald Spear

The City of New York has agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit brought by John Daniels, the father of Ronald Spear, a 52-year old man who was beaten to death by corrections officers while being held at Rikers Island. Mr. Spear, who suffered from chronic kidney disease, was killed after he requested medical treatment on December 19, 2012. Autopsy records revealed that Mr. Spear suffered blunt force trauma to his body and head. The City Medical Examiner ruled Mr. Spear’s death a homicide. Mr. Daniels is represented by ECBA’s Jonathan S. Abady and Zoe Salzman, along with co-counsel Jonathan Chasan and Mary Lynne Werlwas of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project (PRP).

To read more about the case, click here.


Sanctions Ordered Against City of New York Defendants for Destroying Surveillance Footage of City Jail

Southern District of New York Judge Robert P. Patterson ordered sanctions against several New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) officials, corrections officers, and the City for the destruction of surveillance video depicting a violent attack on ECBA’s client, Dwaine Taylor, while he was in a holding cell at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse. Defendants destroyed all but eight minutes of video on either end of the incident, which started with the attack on Mr. Taylor and ended three hours later with Mr. Taylor still in the pen with his attacker. Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions for the destruction of evidence argued that Defendants had a duty to preserve the video footage at the time they became aware of the assault and their failure to do so warranted sanctions: an adverse inference that the jury can presume Plaintiff’s version of the facts relating to what happened during the three hours is true, preclusion of testimony about what the video footage depicted, and attorneys’ fees. Judge Patterson agreed and ordered all of the requested relief against defendants.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Taylor alleged that the DOC and correction officers at City jails allow members of the Bloods to maintain order among inmates in the jail through violence and threats of violence. Mr. Taylor alleged that Defendants had a duty to protect him, and failed to do so in part by putting him in the pen with his attacker and allowing him to remain there, bleeding and with a fractured jaw. The attack at the Bronx Criminal Courthouse was one of two Mr. Taylor suffered at the hands of other inmates as a result of Defendants’ alleged indifference.

Mr. Taylor is represented by ECBA’s Katherine Rosenfeld, Zoe Salzman, Jill Maxwell, and Jonathan S. Abady, and The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project.

To read more about the case, click here.


Judge Certifies Class Action in Case Alleging Excessive Force in City Jails

Today the lawsuit Nunez v. City of New York (11-cv-5845) was certified as a class action by stipulation and agreement of plaintiffs’ counsel and The City of New York, and so-ordered by Magistrate Judge James Francis in the Southern District of New York. The complaint, filed in May of last year, alleges that corrections officers and personnel employed by the New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) have a longstanding policy and practice of using excessive and unlawful force against inmates throughout the City’s jails. The lawsuit also claims that DOC personnel are frequently inadequately trained and disciplined and that the use of excessive force is knowingly permitted and encouraged by DOC supervisors. The plaintiff class will include all present and future inmates incarcerated at DOC jails, with the exceptions of the Eric M. Taylor Center and the Elmhurst and Bellevue Prison Wards. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, Ropes & Gray, and the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project have been appointed as class counsel.