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ECBAWM Files Police Brutality Lawsuit Against NYPD Officers and the City of New York

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a complaint in the Eastern District of New York against the City of New York and New York Police Department Officers for excessive force. The complaint alleges that plaintiff Ernesto Lopez, a respiratory therapist who was working temporarily in New York City helping COVID-19 patients amid the height of the pandemic, was violently assaulted by several NYPD officers while he was peacefully protesting racial injustice and police brutality in Brooklyn on June 3, 2020.

The complaint further alleges that during the protest, unprovoked and without warning, NYPD officers violently assaulted and indiscriminately arrested several protestors, including Mr. Lopez. Though Mr. Lopez did not pose any threat to the officers, they arrested him, struck his head with a baton, and tackled him to the ground.

Police then forcefully restrained Mr. Lopez’s hands, typing zip ties so tight that he lost feeling in his fingers. He spent the next six hours in NYPD detention, where his repeated requests for medical treatment for his head injuries were denied. Additionally, Mr. Lopez’s face mask fell off during the assault and while he was detained, police refused his request to replace his mask despite the risk of COVID-19.

“This is an egregious incident of excessive force and violence committed by the NYPD against a peaceful protestor. It is even more shocking that this assault was carried out against a medical worker who had traveled to New York to help the city and its residents during a time of dire need,” said ECBAWM partner Ilann M. Maazel. “We are confident that these officers will be held accountable for the indiscriminate and unjustified violence committed against Mr. Lopez.”

“This case has key implications for the broader issue of unwarranted violence and excessive force used by the police against civilians exercising their right to peacefully protest,” added ECBAWM attorney Scout Katovich. “We are committed to seeking justice for Mr. Lopez.”

“Though I traveled to New York with the intent to help the sickest New Yorkers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, my experience unfortunately resulted in a shocking incident of violence at the hands of those sworn to protect the city and its residents,” said Mr. Lopez. “I’m optimistic that the resolution of this suit will bring justice and peace for myself, as well as for others who have been similarly brutalized by the police.”

Mr. Lopez is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Scout Katovich.

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Firm Represents Yeshiva University Students in Lawsuit Over Discriminatory Refusal to Recognize LGBTQ Student Group

ECBAWM filed a lawsuit today on behalf of the YU Pride Alliance, Yeshiva University’s unofficial organization for LGBTQ students and their allies, and current and former YU students, to vindicate their right to form an undergraduate LGBTQ student club on YU’s campus. Yeshiva University has, for years, illegally refused to recognize the club, in violation of the New York City Human Rights Law.

The YU Pride Alliance and John Doe, a current YU student, are seeking a preliminary injunction requiring YU to permit the club to form in time for the Fall 2021 semester. YU currently recognizes more than 100 student clubs.

The students negotiated for years to convince YU administrators to approve an LGBTQ club and to follow the law. They informed university administrators repeatedly of the sometimes hostile and frightening experience of being YU LGBTQ students, the need for an LGBTQ student club to support them, and the risks of not having the club. The administration’s refusal to recognize the club communicated to all students that there was something wrong with being LGBTQ and that their existence within a Jewish community as publicly-identifying members of the LGBTQ community was unwelcome.

“There was an urgent need for a student organization dedicated to creating a safe space for LGBTQ students and their allies at YU,” stated Plaintiff Tai Miller, a Yeshiva University class of 2020 graduate and current Harvard Medical School student. “The administration’s persistent rejection of the LGBTQ club made me feel ostracized and unwanted by both my undergraduate community and, more broadly, from my faith community.”

Yeshiva University has known for decades of their legal responsibility to recognize an LGBTQ student club. In 1995, YU received advice from a preeminent New York law firm that there was “no credible legal argument” to ban such a student group. As YU acknowledged, as a nonsectarian institution, it “is subject to the human rights ordinance of the City of New York . . .  Under this law, YU cannot ban gay student clubs.”

Without a university-recognized club, the LGBTQ students lack a place on campus where they have a sense of belonging and discuss their experiences as LGBTQ Jewish students.

LGBTQ students also cannot use campus facilities for meetings, receive funding for its activities, advertising for events in student email blasts and bulletin boards, and participate in club fairs for incoming students.

The students are being represented by Katherine Rosenfeld, Marissa Benavides, and Max Selver.

Press
“Yeshiva University students file lawsuit to get LGBTQ student club recognized,” The Washington Post

Article

ECBAWM Attorneys Reach Settlement in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Brought Against Developer, Architect, and Interior Designer

ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Nick Bourland negotiated a settlement agreement for their client the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”) to resolve a housing discrimination lawsuit brought against a developer, architect, and interior designer for their alleged failure to design and construct four multifamily apartment buildings in New York City in compliance with accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Rabsky Group defendants will retrofit common areas and nearly 500 rental units at the Halo LIC development in Long Island City, Queens, and The Driggs development in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition, the Rabsky Group will build at least 85 new ultra-accessible apartments in accordance with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (“UFAS”) and in addition to any UFAS units the developer is already required to build under federal, state, or local law.  This unique provision guarantees enhanced accessibility at future Rabsky Group developments in New York City.

The settlement also includes $950,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to FHJC, including $300,000 to the Adele Friedman Housing Accessibility Fund, which provides financial assistance to low and moderate income persons with disabilities seeking to modify their homes to increase physical accessibility.

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ECBAWM Partner Ilann Maazel Featured on “The Trial Brief” Podcast Episode About False Confessions and Faulty Witness Identification

ECBAWM partner and civil rights attorney Ilann Maazel was featured on the latest episode of The Trial Brief, a podcast hosted by New York City trial attorney David M. Oddo.

In “False Confessions and Faulty Witness Identification,” Maazel walks listeners through the evolution of wrongful conviction case law, including the role of DNA in uncovering truth and the creation of the Innocence Project, through the New York State Bar Association’s Report of Taskforce on Wrongful Convictions, which concluded that the top two causes of wrongful convictions are false confessions and mistaken stranger witness identification.

Maazel also explains the factors that can lead to a false confession, including whether the person being interrogated is young, potentially has a developmental disability, or is impressionable, as well as the length of the interrogation. “The longer the interrogation is, the more likely you’re going to get a false confession, because the message the interrogators are sending is, ‘until you admit to something, we’re not letting you go,’” says Maazel. “Just about anyone could confess to something they didn’t commit. You just want to tell them what they want to hear so you can get out.”

This immediate need to be free of the interrogation can override any other thought process. “Many people believe, incorrectly and tragically, that even if they falsely confess to something to just end the interrogation, the truth will come out later, because of course they know they’re innocent,” says Maazel. “But the truth doesn’t always come out later, or at least the prosecutors and juries don’t always understand what the truth is later.”

Maazel notes that while confessions are videotaped, interrogations are often not. “If you want to understand the iceberg, you don’t just look at what’s above the water. The critical work occurred before the camera was turned on.” Cameras should be required to be turned on from the very beginning of the interrogation, explains Maazel. “Let’s have the will to get to the truth, and not just the will to have the ‘gotcha’ evidence at the end that leads to a potential conviction.”

The second main contributing factor to false confessions is mistaken identification of strangers. Maazel cites The National Registry of Exonerations, a database created by the University of Michigan Law School that documents every known exoneration since 1989. “As of this recording, there have been 782 exonerations involving mistaken witness identification, accounting for 9,455 lost years in prison,” says Maazel. “That is a staggering injustice caused by misidentification.”

Maazel outlines a multi-part approach to ending wrongful convictions, including a systemic review of every single case that has relied on stranger witness identification or a confession or both, rigorous application of the latest social science research about identifications and confessions, and a conviction integrity unit in every District Attorney’s office that is staffed by people other than career prosecutors. “We need to correct all those injustices,” says Mazel, “and we don’t have a moment to spare, because people are in jail who need help.”

The Trial Brief is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PodBean, and Audible.

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ECBAWM Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of RAINN and Other Advocacy Groups in E. Jean Carroll Lawsuit Against Donald Trump

Today ECBAWM filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and other advocacy groups in support of E. Jean Carroll in her ongoing defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump.

Carroll’s lawsuit alleges that after she came forward saying Trump had raped her, he defamed her, calling her a liar and saying she was “not my type.” Trump then deputized the Department of Justice to intervene in the case, and argue that Trump’s statements were Presidential and he was therefore immune from suit. The District Court rejected this argument. On appeal in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the DOJ continues to defend Trump, so one sexual assault survivor must now confront not only Trump, but also the might of the entire Department of Justice of the most powerful country in the world.

In support of Carroll, ECBAWM’s amicus brief argues that accepting the arguments advanced by Trump and the DOJ “would give license to all federal officials to slander and defame their victims with impunity. Such a decision would have a chilling effect on survivors of sexual violence throughout the country and would exacerbate the challenges survivors already face in holding their attackers accountable.”

“The standards set in this case will have long-term impacts on the rights and recourse available to survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice,” said ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman. “We are honored to join RAINN and the other organizations on this brief in a case with such far-reaching implications on this critically important issue.”

Joining RAINN on the brief are Legal Momentum, the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund; the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; the National Center for Victims of Crime; the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault; Safe Horizon; and Time’s Up.

ECBAWM served as pro bono counsel, led by Salzman with law clerk Julian S. Oppenheimer.

Press
“Trump Rape Accuser Must Have Her Day in Court, Group Tells Judge,” Bloomberg.com

 

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ECBAWM, Legal Aid Obtain $750,000 Settlement from NYPD on Behalf of Client Who Was Illegally Shackled During Labor and After the Delivery of Her Son

Today ECBAWM and The Legal Aid Society announced a $750,000 settlement of a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a 22-year-old New York City woman, “Jane Doe,” who was arrested in 2018 when she was more than 40 weeks pregnant. Ms. Doe was handcuffed and shackled for hours during labor and after she gave birth to her newborn son at Kings County Hospital.

In addition to the monetary portion of the settlement, Ms. Doe requested, and the New York City Police Department agreed, that the NYPD will conduct “roll call” training to all NYPD officers regarding its policies on the use of restraints on pregnant persons.

“The NYPD’s policies for shackling pregnant people are decades behind mainstream law enforcement standards and an embarrassment to the City. At the state level, New York Correction Law § 611 outlaws the use of restraints ‘of any kind’ on women admitted to the hospital for delivery or recovering after giving birth – but the NYPD still refuses to ban these practices,” said ECBAWM partner Katie Rosenfeld, who, along with ECBAWM attorney Andrew Jondahl and The Legal Aid Society, represents Ms. Doe. “Jane Doe is a fierce champion for justice, and we urge the City Council to take up her efforts, change the local laws on shackling pregnant people, and force the NYPD to finally ban handcuffing women who are about to give birth or who have just brought a child into the world.”

During a press conference on Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio commented on the NYPD patrol guide provisions that led to the lawsuit. “I think that was inhumane and we don’t want to see that ever happen again. […] I think it’s a really important example of something that needs to change and if it has not been changed already, we will change it for sure.”

The settlement has been covered by CNN, ABC News, the New York Post, the Daily Beast, and Gothamist.

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ECBAWM and CAIR-NY Obtain Settlement Ending Yonkers Police Department’s Discriminatory “Hijab Removal” Practice

The Yonkers Police Department has agreed to end its discriminatory practice of forcing suspects to remove hijabs and other religious attire while in custody. Pursuant to a settlement obtained by ECBAWM and the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), the YPD will be permitted to remove religious head coverings (including hijabs, turbans, yarmulkes, and more) only in very limited circumstances. The YPD has further agreed to train its employees about the new policy and report to ECBAWM and CAIR-NY annually for three years to ensure proper compliance.

“The policy changes laid out by this decision provide a comprehensive roadmap for other cities to follow in remedying this egregious violation of civil rights,“ said ECBAWM partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “Following the settlement obtained last year against the NYPD, we are optimistic that these cases will offer a precedent to spur other cities and police departments nationwide to address this ongoing issue in a meaningful way.”

“The amount of damages awarded in our settlement further reflect how seriously the City of Yonkers has taken this event and the incursion into the religious rights of our client,” added Emma Freeman, an ECBAWM attorney who also represents the plaintiff.

The settlement also requires the City of Yonkers to pay $175,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees and costs.

The plaintiff is represented by ECBAWM attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman. For additional information, please see today’s press release.

Related Press

Yonkers Police Revise Policy on Women Wearing Hijabs in Custody

Article

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP Announces New Team Members

The firm is pleased to announce new members of our team: Ananda Burra, Noel León, Sonya Levitova, Julian S. Oppenheimer, Vivake Prasad, and Max Selver.

Ananda Burra graduated magna cum laude, Order of the Coif from the University of Michigan Law School in 2014, where he served as an editor on the Michigan Law Review and was awarded the William Bishop Prize for excellence in International Law. He clerked on the International Court of Justice, was a visiting fellow at the University of Cambridge and the University of Virginia, and received a PhD from the University of Michigan. Prior to joining the firm, Dr. Burra was an associate at Jones Day in the global disputes practice and held summer positions at Steptoe & Johnson LLP and Human Rights First in Washington D.C., and at the Center for Policy Alternative in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He received his BA cum laude from Williams College.

Noel León graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2014, where she was a Toll Public Interest Fellow and Executive Articles Editor for the Penn Journal of Law and Social Change. She joins the firm after a clerkship with the Honorable Victor A. Bolden of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut. Previously, Ms. León was Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center. She was also a Case Manager for the DC Abortion Fund. Ms. León received a BA in Psychology from Yale University in 2009.

Sonya Levitova earned her JD from the City University of New York School of Law in 2020, where she was a Graduate Fellow and served as Managing Articles Editor for the CUNY Law Review. During law school, she participated in the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility Project, and interned with ArchCity Defenders. She also worked at the firm as a summer associate. Ms. Levitova received her BA from Yale University. She is a law clerk and the firm’s 2020 Justice Catalyst Fellow working to hold federal officials accountable for their violations of incarcerated people’s constitutional rights.

Julian S. Oppenheimer graduated in 2020 from the City University of New York School of Law, where he was a member of the Moot Court Team and a teaching assistant for the Trial Practice Seminar. He previously served as a judicial intern for the Hon. Saliann Scarpulla of the New York State Supreme Court, Commercial Division and interned with the New York Civil Liberties Union. Mr. Oppenheimer received his BA from the City College of New York, where he studied Political Science and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He is currently working as a law clerk and will become an associate at the firm upon his admission to the bar.

Vivake Prasad graduated in 2015 from New York University School of Law, where he was the Senior Articles Editor for the N.Y.U. Journal of Legislation & Public Policy. During law school, he served as a student advocate in the NYU Racial Justice and NYU Global Justice Clinics, worked at the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and was awarded a Ford Foundation Fellowship. Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Prasad was a litigation associate at White & Case LLP. Prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. Prasad advised Indian Members of Parliament on legislation and policy matters with PRS Legislative Research, at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi. He received his BS in Policy & Management and Political Science, with University Honors, from Carnegie Mellon University.

Max Selver graduated magna cum laude, Order of the Coif from the New York University School of Law in 2016, where he was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Fellow. Before joining the firm, Mr. Selver was Litigation Fellow at Youth Represent and a Law Clerk to the Honorable Analisa Torres and James C. Francis IV in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. He received his BA cum laude from Harvard College in 2011.

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Family of Police Shooting Victim Tamir Rice Requests DOJ Re-Open Investigation

The family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot and killed by Cleveland police officers, today requested that United States Attorney General Merrick Garland re-open the Department of Justice investigation into Tamir’s death.

On Saturday, November 22, 2014, Tamir was playing with a toy pellet gun by himself in a park near his house. When Cleveland police officers drove into the park at high speed, there was no one else around and Tamir wasn’t brandishing the toy. Despite there being no imminent danger, Officer Timothy Loehmann jumped out of his still-rolling squad car and fatally shot Tamir.

Security video footage of the shooting contradicts the statements given by the Cleveland police to justify the shooting. The video shows there was no time for Loehmann to give Tamir commands; Loehmann shot him immediately. After watching the video, the Cleveland Municipal Court found probable cause to charge the officers involved, and a grand jury was convened. But then the local prosecutor grossly mishandled the grand jury proceeding in order to exonerate the officers, including actually telling the grand jury they should not indict. In the face of this injustice, at the end of 2015, we requested a Department of Justice investigation into the shooting.

Articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post in October 2020 revealed that Trump political appointees at DOJ had stymied that investigation for years. They twice refused requests by apolitical career prosecutors to present this case to a grand jury. They allowed the clock to run on the statute of limitations for obstruction of justice charges. Finally, in the waning weeks of the Trump presidency, between Christmas and New Year’s, DOJ quietly announced it was closing the investigation entirely.

Attorney General Garland should re-open the investigation and convene a grand jury. There is no statute of limitations on prosecuting Officer Loehmann for killing Tamir in violation of his civil rights.

The essential facts of this case are not in dispute. Tragically, it is also indisputable that race played a defining role in Tamir’s death. As we note in the request to Attorney General Garland, “If these police officers had driven into a park in a wealthy, predominantly White suburb, if the boy they saw sitting there under the gazebo was White—is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that that boy would still be alive today?”

On behalf of Tamir’s family, we are requesting that this case be re-opened and presented to a grand jury without the agenda of exonerating the officers.

We invite you to read our request to Attorney General Garland in its entirety.

ECBAWM partners Jonathan S. Abady, Earl S. Ward, and Zoe Salzman represent the family of Tamir Rice.

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New York Times Publishes Letter by ECBAWM Partner Andrew Celli

On March 26, the New York Times published a Letter to the Editor authored by ECBAWM founding partner Andrew G. Celli Jr. Drawing from his extensive experience representing victims of police misconduct, Celli’s Letter, “In Service,” offers a more nuanced perspective on Maurice Chammah’s review of Rosa Brooks’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and Justin Fenton’s “We Own This City,” which implied that the police seek high-risk situations because of boredom in regular patrol work. Celli writes about his perspective on the realities of police work and calls on those in the profession to more adequately communicate their role as a public service, rather than an outlet for adventure.

Recently, Andrew Celli has contributed to cases that involved fatalities resulting from police misconduct, such as the death of Daniel Prude and Osaze Osagie.

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