Third Circuit Court of Appeals Allows Case Alleging Misconduct in Federal Prison to Continue

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Philadelphia, largely affirmed the decision of a Pennsylvania District Court, unanimously holding that claims by Peter Bistrian, a former pre-sentencing detainee at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia, that various prison officials violated his constitutional rights, should proceed. Bistrian alleges that, while awaiting sentencing, he assisted prison authorities who were investigating violence at the facility. When Bistrian’s cooperation was revealed due to negligence of prison authorities, those authorities failed to protect him from those he had cooperated against. Shortly thereafter, Bistrian was viciously attacked by one of those inmates, resulting in severe physical injury. Bistrian also alleges that he was improperly placed in segregated housing for 447 days, in part in retaliation for complaints he raised in court. Reviewing the District Court’s denial of qualified immunity to the prison officials, the Third Circuit agreed that Bistrian had alleged several violations of clearly-established constitutional rights, and remanded the case to the District Court for further proceedings. ECBAWM attorney Andrew Wilson argued before the Third Circuit, and he was joined on the briefs by Adam Pulver, Eisha Jain, and Jonathan Abady.


Lawsuit Filed Against NYPD Officers in Beating of Teenager Caught on Video

ECBAWM filed a civil rights lawsuit today in federal court on behalf of Luis Solivan, a young Bronx man brutally beaten by two NYPD Officers on November 14, 2011. Mr. Solivan was returning home from the store when the officers chased him into his apartment and attacked him. During the beating, he was pepper-sprayed, struck with a walkie-talkie, and eventually handcuffed. Even after they had secured the handcuffs, the officers continued to kick and beat Mr. Solivan, at one point banging his head against a wall so hard it left a hole. Mr. Solivan, 19 at the time, was arrested without a warrant and had committed no crime.

Part of the beating was caught on video by a neighbor. The video shows Mr. Solivan being pinned down by one officer while another strikes him in the face. Mr. Solivan’s mother and five- and eight-year-old brothers witnessed the beating, which took place in their living room. After reviewing the video, a grand jury refused to indict Mr. Solivan.

Mr. Solivan is represented by Earl Ward, Ilann M. Maazel, and Adam Pulver of ECBAWM.

“Video of Police Encounter May Play Lead Role in Lawsuit,” New York Times


Judge Certifies Class Action Challenging Illegal Debt Collection Practices

In a groundbreaking decision, federal judge Denny Chin granted class-action status in a case brought on behalf of more than 100,000 New Yorkers harmed by a massive consumer debt collection scheme. The class-action lawsuit, Sykes v. Mel S. Harris and Associates LLC, charges that a debt collection ring engaged in persistent robo-signing and conspired to defraud New Yorkers of millions of dollars, in violation of federal racketeering and fair debt collection practices law.

In its 42-page decision, the court cited widespread evidence that the defendants had fraudulently obtained tens of thousands of default judgments against New Yorkers, by filing false affidavits and intentionally failing to notify people that they were being sued. The named plaintiffs are low-income New Yorkers who were never served by the debt collectors, and who only discovered that they had been sued in debt collection cases after default judgments were illegally entered against them. The named defendants include Leucadia National Corporation, a public corporation that buys debts for pennies on the dollar; Mel S. Harris and Associates LLC, one of the largest debt collection law firms in the state; and Samserv, Inc., a process serving company.

The plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM’s Matthew D. Brinckerhoff and Eisha Jain, along with co-counsel the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project and MFY Legal Services, Inc.


City to Pay $850,000 for Rikers “Program” Beating of Kadeem John

The City of New York has agreed to pay $850,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Kadeem John, who, while a teenage inmate at the Robert N. Davoren Center (RNDC) at Rikers Island, was brutally assaulted as part of “the Program,” a system in which gang-affiliated prisoners, with knowledge and approval of corrections officers, keep order by assaulting and threatening other prisoners. In June 2010, when Mr. John was 18 and in RNDC for a turnstile jump, he was menaced by an inmate enforcer and his team, who controlled access to phones, the seating arrangements in the day room and the distribution of cigarettes. Eventually, another inmate brutally assaulted Mr. John in order to elevate his status within the team and in the eyes of the enforcer, causing permanent neurological injury and severe kidney damage. On August 31, 2012, U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson approved the settlement of the case. Mr. John is represented by ECBAWM’s Jonathan Abady, Katherine Rosenfeld, and Adam Pulver, along with co-counsel the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners Rights Project.

“New York City to Pay in Another Prisoner Suit,” New York Times


ECBAWM Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Man Choked and Killed by NYPD Officer

A civil rights lawsuit was filed today in federal court in the Eastern District of New York by the wife of James Young, who was viciously and unjustifiably choked to the point of unconsciousness by a New York City police officer while he was sitting on a public bench in Brooklyn. As a result of this brutal choking, Mr. Young fell into a coma and died four months later, without ever regaining consciousness. The lawsuit, arising from the tragic, outrageous, and unlawful act of
a New York City police officer, seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the violation of Mr. Young’s civil rights. Mr. Young’s wife is represented by ECBAWM’s Earl S. Ward and Samuel Shapiro.


ECBAWM’s Wrongful Conviction Work Reported in the New York Times

ECBAWM’s civil rights work on behalf of Israel Vasquez, who was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for nearly 13 years for a 1995 homicide, was reported in a front-page article in the New York Times. In 1995, Mr. Vasquez was jointly indicted with five others for two separate homicides, that of a taxi driver and a Federal Express worker. He spent over a decade in prison before his conviction was unanimously vacated by an appellate court. The five others who were charged along with Mr. Vasquez remain incarcerated, and a federal investigation has now revealed that none of these individuals had any involvement with the taxi driver homicide. In a joint statement with co-counsel, Earl S. Ward stated, “It was in pursuing Israel Vasquez’s civil rights claims that it became obvious to us that everyone who was convicted in both of these crimes was innocent.” Mr. Vasquez is represented by ECBAWM’s Earl S. Ward and Eisha Jain, along with co-counsel Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, PLLC.


ECBAWM Represents Office of the Public Advocate In Data Access Litigation

On July 26, 2012, ECBAWM filed suit on behalf of the New York City Office of the Public Advocate against Mayor Michael Bloomberg and several of his commissioners. The case seeks to enforce the Public Advocate’s right under the New York City Charter to obtain documents and other information concerning the fines and penalties imposed on small businesses. In a New York Times article announcing the suit, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio invoked the Office’s role as a watchdog over the mayoral administration: “We’re just not going to stand for it anymore,” he said. “[The Mayor’s agencies] have to be transparent with an oversight entity like the public advocate’s office. And we’ve decided there’s no choice now but to turn to litigation.”

In 1997, ECBAWM successfully litigated the seminal case in this area, Green v. Safir. That case established the Public Advocate’s right under the Charter to obtain documents from mayoral appointees and to enforce its access rights in the courts. The Office of the Public Advocate is represented by ECBAWM’s Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Zoe Salzman.


Family Sues New York State Facility for Torture and Abuse of Disabled Adult

This morning, the family of K.C. filed a lawsuit in federal court in Albany against staff at OD Heck Developmental Center, a New York State residential treatment center for the disabled. The lawsuit alleges serious abuse and mistreatment of K.C., a young, severely disabled man entrusted to their care. The complaint (beginning at ¶ 45) alleges that numerous New York State employees physically and verbally abused K.C., regularly berating him and referring to him as “it” and “the walking plague,” confining him to a space the size of a cage, and beating him with a wooden stick when he attempted to escape. A supervisor referred to the stick as “the magic wand.”

On February 28, 2011, K.C. was rushed to the hospital unconscious and placed on life support. K.C. had unexplained cuts and bruises, was severely malnourished, and was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia. A month later, K.C. died at the age of 22.

“This disabled young man was treated like an animal,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel to the family, and a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP. “Such inhumane treatment, by so many people, for such a long period of time, is absolutely shocking.”

“The need for reform at OD Heck is urgent. Holding these staff members accountable is a good first step,” said Julia Einbond, also counsel to the family.

K.C.’s abuse was first publicly disclosed in a New York Times article on June 5, 2011. Since then, the New York State Office of the Inspector General has investigated the case, apparently without conclusion. It is not clear if any New York State employee has yet been disciplined as a result of these allegations.

“2 Lawsuits Detail Abuse of Disabled in State Care,” New York Times


ECBAWM Files Lawsuit Alleging Neglect and Mistreatment at Brooklyn Group Home

On July 18, 2012, ECBAWM filed a lawsuit in federal court against Eihab Human Services, Inc., alleging serious neglect and mistreatment of B.W., a young autistic man who was in the facility’s care. Over the course of his stay with Eihab, B.W. was taken to the hospital on six separate occasions. One of those occasions occurred following an incident in which B.W. nearly choked to death on a corncob, the result of grossly inadequate supervision and staff training. In the wake of the choking incident, the complaint alleges, the facility and its employees continued to mistreat B.W. and ignored his medical needs. Within three months, he became severely malnourished, his weight dropping to a mere 56 pounds. In addition to Eihab’s neglect, the lawsuit also alleges that B.W. was frequently left unattended in soiled clothing and suffered numerous unexplained bruises and cuts. B.W. is represented by ECBAWM’s Ilann M. Maazel, Elizabeth Saylor, and Jessica Clarke.

“Brooklyn group home nearly killed severely autistic patient, says parents’ lawsuit,” New York Daily News
“2 Lawsuits Detail Abuse of Disabled in State Care,” New York Times