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Have you been affected by sexual abuse at Ohio State?

If so, please call us at 212-763-5042, email ohiosurvivors@ecbalaw.com, or use this form.

ECBA represents 77 survivors of sexual abuse by OSU doctor Richard Strauss. While employed by Ohio State, Dr. Strauss reportedly committed at least 47 rapes and 1,429 sexual assaults of Ohio State students, over a period of decades. Ilann M. Maazel, Debra Greenberger, and Marissa Benavides at ECBA are co-counseling the case with attorneys Adele Kimmel at Public Justice in Washington, D.C., and Scott Smith in Columbus, Ohio. The case is captioned Snyder-Hill, et al. v. The Ohio State University, 18-CV-00736, in federal court in Columbus.

A May 15, 2019 report reveals OSU’s complete failure to protect its students. The report found: “Despite the persistence, seriousness, and regularity of complaints” of sexual abuse from students since 1979, “no meaningful action was taken by the University to investigate the concerns until January 1996.” Even then, officials at the highest levels of the University kept Strauss as a tenured faculty member until 1998, gave him an emeritus appointment in 1998, did not inform any students that Strauss was a sexual predator, and permitted Strauss to run ads in the University newspaper about his off-campus private men’s clinic for OSU students and others

This major national news story has been covered by, among others, People, U.S. News & World Report, Fox Sports, and Yahoo! Sports.

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ECBA Files Suit Against Boy Scouts On Behalf of an Eagle Scout Who Was Sexually Abused and Coerced Into Underage Sex Work By His Scoutmaster

On January 2020, ECBA filed suit on behalf of Ronald Hernandez Hunter, an eagle scout who was sexually abused by an Assistant Scoutmaster while participating in the Boy Scouts as an adolescent in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the 1970s.  As detailed in the complaint, the Boy Scouts amassed a trove of records about rampant sexual abuse in Scouting over the course of decades, but failed to institute policies to protect scouts from abuse.  The suit alleges that the Boy Scouts’ negligent approach to selecting and supervising adult volunteers and its deceptive marketing of its programs as a wholesome and safe activity for children allowed Mr. Hunter to be sexually exploited by Assistant Scoutmaster Charlie Acevedo.  Acevedo was later convicted of multiple crimes involving child molestation and is now serving a life sentence in prison in Florida.

As ECBA attorney David Lebowitz told the New York Daily News, “Ron’s case is unusually horrific because he was abused so many times over so many years and trafficked into sex work by his Scoutmaster. Sadly, the underlying story is all too common: Ron lost his childhood because the Boy Scouts failed to protect him and other young men from the sexual abuse they knew was rampant in the organization. If they had instituted common-sense rules and procedures, Ron never would’ve suffered this horrible abuse.”

“Many sexual abuse survivors understandably choose to file suit anonymously because of the continuing shame and trauma,” said ECBA partner Debbie Greenberger.  “Ron’s bravery stands out—he is bringing this case under his own name because he hopes that by reclaiming his story he will inspire other survivors to come forward.  We have brought this case because the Boy Scouts never should have allowed a pedophile like Charlie Acevedo free reign to molest vulnerable boys.”

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

ECBA’s Debbie Greenberger and David Lebowitz represent Mr. Hunter in the suit.

 

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Paul Haggis Loses Appeal on Gender Motivated Violence Protection Law

The New York Appellate Division, First Department ruled on December 26, 2019 that rape and sexual assault are necessarily motivated at least in part by animus towards the victim’s gender, and therefore prohibited by the New York City Victims of Gender-Motivated Violence Protection Law.

The case is Breest v. Haggis, one of the few cases of the MeToo era that is being litigated in civil court. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP represents Haleigh Breest, who alleges that Hollywood director Paul Haggis raped and assaulted her after a film premiere in 2013. The First Department affirmed the lower court’s decision denying Haggis’s motion to dismiss the case. In so doing, the Court rejected Haggis’s argument that, in order to plead a claim, the plaintiff had to allege that he had expressed hatred towards all women. In the first appellate ruling to ever address this important law, the Court made it clear that it did not agree with other lower court decisions that created “insuperable barriers” for sexual assault victims to plead their claims and seek justice.

The Court held that: “Rape and sexual assault are, by definition, actions taken against the victim without the victim’s consent. Without consent, sexual acts such as those alleged in the complaint are a violation of the victim’s bodily autonomy and an expression of the perpetrator’s contempt for that autonomy. Coerced sexual activity is dehumanizing and fear-inducing. Malice or ill will based on gender is apparent from the alleged commission of the act itself. Animus inheres where consent is absent.”

“This is a historic ruling that breathes new life into the New York City law against gender motivated violence,” said ECBA partner Zoe Salzman. “This decision paves the way for a jury to hold Paul Haggis accountable at trial.”

ECBA attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, Zoe Salzman, and Emma Freeman represent Haleigh Breest.

Read the First Department’s decision here.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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ECBA Clients Achieve $1 Million Settlement and Major Reforms Barring City from Sending Young Rikers Detainees to Solitary Confinement at Albany County Jail

On October 18, 2019, ECBA clients Davon Washington, Steven Espinal, Pariis Tillery, and John Doe reached a significant settlement of their civil rights claims against the City of New York, Albany County, individual correctional defendants, and a jail medical provider.

Plaintiffs are four young men who filed suit in 2018 after the City of New York abruptly transferred them from Rikers to an Albany County “black site” jail.  Upon arrival upstate, the four young men were systematically subjected to brutal beatings and sexual assaults by jail guards, suffering severe injuries including a perforated eardrum.  For the entirety of their time at the Albany County Jail, they were held in solitary confinement, cut off from meaningful human contact and isolated from family, adequate medical care, and their lawyers.  These events came just three years after New York City banned solitary confinement for detainees ages 21 and younger, and restricted the practice for all detainees.  By sending plaintiffs to Albany County, DOC conducted an “end run” around solitary confinement restrictions.

As part of Friday’s settlement, the City agreed to no longer transfer any person detained at Rikers to Albany County through December 31, 2021, and agreed to start providing a written notice to any detainee that is transferred out of Rikers to any other jail on a Substitute Jail Order.  Albany County agreed that if DOC detainees are sent to its jail in the future, they will follow New York City’s rules about solitary confinement, through December 31, 2023.

Plaintiff Davon Washington told The New York Times, “In the future nobody will have to go through what we went through. They won’t have to experience that feeling.”

“The City’s responsibility for (prisoners’) well-being doesn’t stop at the northern border of the Bronx.  It doesn’t end by shipping them somewhere else,” said Doug Lieb, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs in this case are represented by Katie Rosenfeld and Doug Lieb of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, and Steven Goldman of Goldman & Associates.

Read the New York Times and NY Daily News coverage here and here.

Read our original press of the story here.

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Ohio State Admits Dr. Strauss Committed As Many Rapes As the Golden State Killer

In an astonishing development, The Ohio State University has now admitted that its employee, Dr. Richard Strauss, committed 47 rapes and 1,429 sexual assaults of student-patients, over a period of two decades. The admissions, from OSU’s Annual Security Report and website, are here (p. 61, admitting to 992 sexual assaults and 30 rapes reported in 2018) and here (admitting to 437 sexual assaults and 17 rapes by Strauss reported so far this year). (The Golden State Killer is reported to have committed approximately 45-50 rapes.)

These numbers dwarf the previously reported 177 sexual assaults of OSU student-patients in a report from Perkins Coie, the law firm hired by The Ohio State University’s Special Counsel. That report found that “Despite the persistence, seriousness, and regularity of … complaints” of sexual abuse from students since 1979, “no meaningful action was taken by the University to investigate the concerns until January 1996.”

“This is one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in U.S. history, said Ilann M. Maazel, co-counsel for survivor Steve Snyder-Hill and 76 other plaintiffs. “No words can describe the scope, the scale, or the appalling nature of OSU’s failure to protect its own students.”

“Ohio State claims it is being transparent by reporting nearly 1500 incidents of rape and sexual assault by Dr. Strauss, but it still refuses to disclose how many students were abused,” said Adele P. Kimmel, also co-counsel. “Ohio State knows how many students have reported abuse by Strauss and should disclose that to the public. It is clearly far more than the 177 students referenced in the Perkins Coie report.”

“This new information further shows OSU has known but continues to conceal evidence of Dr. Strauss’s serial sexual abuse. They were guilty of covering it up then and they are guilty of covering it up today,” said Scott E. Smith, also co-counsel.

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 of Public Justice. More on the case is available at www.osusurvivors.com.

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“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.”

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Ten ECBA Attorneys Named as Super Lawyers; Four Named as Rising Stars

ECBA is proud to announce that partners Richard EmeryAndrew CelliMatthew BrinckerhoffJonathan AbadyIlann MaazelEarl WardHal LiebermanDan KornsteinAndrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2019. Partners Zoe Salzman and Sam Shapiro and associates David Lebowitz and Alanna Kaufman were named as Rising Stars.

The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found here.

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