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ECBAWM Clients Sue State College, PA Police for Fatal Shooting

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Osaze Osagie’s family against the Borough of State College as well as ten State College Police Department (“SCPD”) officers. The complaint addresses the systemic failures that resulted in a State College police officer fatally shooting 29-year-old Osaze Osagie, who was suffering a mental health crisis at the time, on March 20, 2019.

Osaze Osagie’s family hopes to expose the policies and practices that allowed for such an injustice to occur. In a statement released by their legal team they elaborate, “The Osagie family files this case today with deep resolve, but also with a heavy heart.  They are determined to seek justice for their beloved son, which includes holding the Borough and SCPD accountable for their systemic failings in creating and maintaining a broken policing system that caused his untimely death.” The family also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

You can read the complaint here.

You can read more about this case here.

ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Earl S. Ward, and David Berman represent the plaintiffs, alongside The Law Office of Andrew Shubin and Kathleen Yurchak from Steinbacher, Goodall, and Yurchak.

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ECBAWM Obtains Settlement Forcing NYPD to End Discriminatory “Hijab Removal” Policy

The NYPD has agreed to end its discriminatory “hijab removal” policy, which forced suspects to remove hijabs and other religious attire for mug shots. Pursuant to a partial settlement obtained by ECBAWM and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), the NYPD will have only limited law enforcement exceptions to remove religious head coverings.

“The policy changes we have obtained are a blueprint for the nation’s police departments,” said ECBAWM partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “Law enforcement interests can be served without violating religious freedom. This settlement protects both.”

“This settlement reflects New York City’s renewed commitment to the free exercise rights of all its residents,” said ECBAWM attorney Emma Freeman. “As the NYPD’s new policies recognize, there is no need to strip away religious head coverings at the precinct door.”

ECBAWM and STOP will continue to seek damages from the NYPD for individuals who were previously forced to remove their religious head coverings as part of the intake process.

Mr. Wilson and Ms. Freeman are joined by ECBAWM partner Matthew D. Brinckerhoff in representing the plaintiffs.

ECBAWM has filed a similar lawsuit against the Yonkers Police Department for forcing individuals to remove religious head coverings for mug shots and while in custody. That case is also pending.

Related Press
“N.Y.P.D. Will No Longer Force Women to Remove Hijabs for Mug Shots,” New York Times (11.13.20)
“NYPD will now allow people to wear religious head coverings in booking photos,” CNN (11.11.20)
“NYPD Will Allow Defendants To Keep Religious Headgear On For Mug Shots,” Gothamist (11.10.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (11.10.20)
“NYPD can no longer force Muslim women to remove hijabs in mug shots, settlement says,” USA Today (11.10.20)
“NYPD will now allow religious people to wear head coverings in booking photos,” KCTV5 (11.10.20)
“New York police to stop forcing Muslim women to remove hijab during arrest,” Middle East Eye (11.10.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” The Washington Post (11.9.20)
“NYC settles lawsuit over forced removal of head coverings when religiously observant person is under arrest,” New York Daily News (11.9.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” ABC News (11.9.20)
“NYPD Will Allow Those Arrested to Wear Religious Headware for Mug Shots,” 4New York NBC News (11.9.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” Associated Press (11.9.20)
“NYPD shift for religious headgear in lawsuit settlement,” Olean Times Herald (11.9.20)

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Federal Court Rejects Motion to Dismiss ECBAWM’s Religious Head Covering Class Action Against the City of New York

On September 30, 2020, federal judge Analisa Torres denied a motion to dismiss brought by the City of New York against a class action lawsuit filed by ECBAWM and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, New York on behalf of all New Yorkers forced to remove their religious head coverings for mug shots while in NYPD custody. The Court upheld Plaintiffs’ claims under the Federal Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), both of which protect the rights of all New Yorkers to express their beliefs through religious clothing. The Court’s decision means that ECBAWM and CAIR-NY will continue to press forward with their efforts to end the NYPD’s practice of forcing arrestees to undress for mug shots and vindicate the rights of all who have been subjected to this harmful policy.

“This decision allows all New Yorkers to pursue their claims against the NYPD for gratuitously stripping them of their religious clothing,” said O. Andrew F. Wilson, a partner at ECBAWM.

“The Court’s decision recognizes that the U.S. Constitution and federal law both protect the right of every New Yorker to wear their chosen religious headgear—even while in police custody,” said ECBAWM attorney Emma Freeman. “This is a significant victory for people of all faiths.”

ECBAWM’s O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman represent the plaintiffs. To read the Complaint, click here.

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Celli to Lead Independent Investigation of Rochester City Government in the Wake of the Death of Daniel Prude

The Council of the City of Rochester, NY, has selected ECBAWM’S Andrew G. Celli, Jr. to lead an independent investigation of Rochester city government in the wake of the death of Daniel Prude, a mentally ill man who died in police custody last Spring. The death had been attributed to a drug overdose, but police body camera footage and the report of the Monroe County Medical Examiner released in September show that Mr. Prude died of asphyxia while being restrained by Rochester police. The investigation will focus on whether there was an attempt by any city official or employee to suppress the truth about the circumstances of Mr. Prude’s death. In addition to Mr. Celli, ECBAWM partner Katherine Rosenfeld and associate Scout Katovitch will conduct the investigation. Stories about ECBAWM’s investigation can be found in Spectrum News, the Democrat and Chronicle, and in WXXI News, both here and here.

The subpoenas issued in this investigation can be found here.

ECBAWM also represents the Rochester City Council in defending a case brought by the local police union to invalidate a charter amendment that created an all-civilian Police Accountability Board with the power to discipline officers found to have committed misconduct. You can read about ECBAWM’s work in Rochester in the Democrat and Chronicle.

 

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$3.2 Million Settlement Reached in Illegal Wiretap Class Action

A federal class action brought on behalf of individuals whose communications were illegally intercepted through a scheme orchestrated by a former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney has been settled with New York City and employees of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office for $3.2 million.

ECBAWM attorneys Richard D. Emery, Samuel Shapiro and Scout Katovich, along with co-counsel Wiggin & Dana LLP, represent the class, whose communications were intercepted as the result of former Brooklyn ADA Tara Lenich creating fake court orders to fraudulently obtain wiretaps for the phones of a detective with whom Lenich had an affair and a woman Lenich believed to be in a romantic relationship with the detective.

Filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the agreement settles Federal Wiretap Act allegations against the City of New York and employees of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. Ms. Lenich did not participate in the settlement.

You can read more about this case in Law360. The case is Rosenfeld et al. v. Lenich et al. (1:18-cv-06720, E.D.N.Y.).

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ECBAWM Sues Real Estate Developer Over Holocaust Denial Comments

ECBAWM filed suit today on behalf of Alison Greene. The complaint alleges that Ms. Greene was the victim of anti-Semitic and gender discrimination at the hands of her prior employer, the real estate developer El Ad Group. According to the complaint, El Ad Executive Vice President William “Bill” Harvey, made Holocaust denial comments, saying the concentration camps were not “that big a deal” and “the Holocaust wasn’t as bad as people said it was.” The complaint explains that Ms. Greene, who is Jewish and was very upset by these remarks, complained to El Ad’s legal and human resources departments, but El Ad did nothing and an El Ad human resources employee actually laughed at Ms. Greene when she reported her distress at these remarks. The complaint further alleges that El Ad also tolerated rampant sexism and gender discrimination against Ms. Greene and other female employees. “No company should tolerate anti-Semitism and Holocaust denials in New York City in 2020, especially not one with El Ad’s Israeli origins,” said ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman.

Read the complaint here and press coverage about the case here.

ECBAWM Partner Zoe Salzman represents Alison Greene.

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Lawsuit Challenges Louisville’s Military-Grade Protest Response

ECBAWM and co-counsel the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a class-action lawsuit against the City of Louisville, Kentucky, its Mayor Greg Fischer, and several Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (“LMPD”) officials and officers to enjoin the LMPD from using military-grade crowd control weapons against peaceful protesters, and it seeks damages on behalf of several such protesters who have already been harmed by these brutish tactics.

After the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many other Black people who have died at the hands of police, people in Louisville joined in the wave of protests across the country to advocate for an end to racist and violent policing. In response to this courageous exercise of First Amendment rights, the LMPD attacked the peaceful crowds, indiscriminately firing at them with tear gas, pepper bullets, flash bangs, and other military-grade weapons designed for enemy combat. In some cases, officers fired live ammunition into the crowds, striking several protesters. When journalists attempted to document this unconstitutional use of force, officers tracked them down and sprayed them with more pepper bullets and beat them with batons.

“Louisville is using weapons of war against its own citizens,” said ECBAWM partner Sam Shapiro. “It is trying to silence peaceful protestors through unjustified arrests and trumped-up charges. Shockingly, its mayor and the leadership of the LMPD are endorsing this unconstitutional conduct. Our clients are committed to fighting back against these practices. They are bringing this case to make Louisville safe for all peaceful protestors.”

To read the complaint, click here.

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

ECBAWM’s Earl S. WardO. Andrew F. WilsonSam Shapiro, and Andrew Jondahl, along with attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky represent Plaintiffs.

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Family of Jamel Floyd Holds Funeral Today, and Calls for Justice, One Month After His Untimely Death in Brooklyn Federal Prison

On June 3, 2020, Jamel Floyd’s life was tragically cut short while he was a prisoner in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He was only 35 years old.

Mr. Floyd had been looking forward to release from prison in just a few months, and to the start of a whole new chapter in his life.

Mr. Floyd died after Federal Bureau of Prisons correction officers pepper-sprayed him while he was locked in his prison cell, and then subjected him to excessive force while removing him from his cell. Witnesses report that officers blasted so much pepper spray into Mr. Floyd’s cell that the entire unit was impacted, with other people having to place wet towels under their own cell doors so they could breathe. After Mr. Floyd lost consciousness, officers strapped his unresponsive body to a restraint chair and removed him from MDC’s special housing unit.

Mr. Floyd was never seen alive again.

Today, Mr. Floyd’s family and friends—his mother, father, brother, fiancé, and extended family—are gathering for his funeral in Hempstead, New York, where they will commemorate his life. Before June 3rd, they were eagerly planning for Mr. Floyd’s parole appearance and possible release from prison in the fall.

Mr. Floyd’s brother, Ramel Floyd, was hoping to start a new moving truck business with his brother later this year. Just days before Jamel Floyd’s death, Ramel spoke with his brother about their plans. “Jamel was super intelligent, he was a jailhouse lawyer and was also studying while he was in prison to get the licenses he needed for our new business,” Ramel says. “Everything was lining up for the next part of my brother’s life—he was so close to getting out and then they took him away from us.”

Mr. Floyd’s mother, Donna Mays, was counting down the weeks until Mr. Floyd’s parole date. Ms. Mays could not wait to see Mr. Floyd reunited with his entire family in Hempstead later this year. “I am getting married soon and Jamel was supposed to walk me down the aisle,” Ms. Mays says. “Now, because of what they did to my son, I am planning his funeral instead.”

The MDC and Federal Bureau of Prisons must respond to calls for justice in the wake of Jamel Floyd’s untimely death, from his family, elected officials, and the millions of people who have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. The BOP must act swiftly to release Mr. Floyd’s medical and institutional records to his family without further delay, including the video taken of the use of force against him, and allow a prompt and impartial investigation into Mr. Floyd’s death.

“The violent and senseless death of Jamel Floyd, yet another young Black man who died in the custody of law enforcement—this time in a federal jail facility—is disturbing,” said Katherine Rosenfeld, one of the Floyd and Mays family’s attorneys. “This heartbroken family deserves truthful answers about what happened to Jamel Floyd.”

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez stated: “Time and again, MDC has exhibited lack of accountability and allowed conditions that endanger the lives of those detained there. The recent death of Jamel Floyd fits this pattern and initial review suggests it could have been prevented. I will continue pressing the Department of Justice for answers and work to hold MDC accountable. We need a complete and swift investigation.”

Congressman Jerry Nadler described initial reports of Mr. Floyd’s death as “horrifying” and immediately called for a Congressional investigation of Mr. Floyd’s death.

Jabari Brisport, candidate for New York State Senate District 25, which includes MDC, stated: “Jamel should still be with us today, but the people responsible for his caretaking gave him an unlawful death sentence at MDC. As a person suffering from asthma, he managed to avoid COVID-19, only to be tragically murdered by correction officers using pepper spray. I stand in solidarity with the Floyd family, and would like to amplify their calls for the release of medical records, and for a prompt investigation into his death.”

Mr. Floyd’s family wishes to express their gratitude to the thousands of people who have supported their campaign for #JusticeforJamel, attended the vigils outside the MDC, and contributed to Jamel’s funeral expenses. They also thank the many people confined in the MDC who have come forward to tell the truth about what happened to Jamel.

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Federal Judge Sanctions MDC for Spoliation of Evidence in COVID-19 Class Action Lawsuit

On Tuesday, June 10, U.S. District Judge Rachel Kovner issued her ruling on the motion filed by ECBAWM and co-counsel the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, Alexander A. Reinert, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, for preliminary injunction in Chunn v. Edge, 20 Civ. 1590 (E.D.N.Y.), a class action lawsuit challenging the response of the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) to the COVID-19 pandemic. While denying the request for immediate relief, which would have released medically vulnerable inmates from the MDC, Judge Kovner also found that responses to requests for medical care had been slow at times and the facility had not isolated all inmates who exhibited COVID-like symptoms. Significantly, Judge Kovner drew an adverse inference against the MDC based on its spoliation of paper records of requests for medical care after the lawsuit was filed and imposed sanctions against MDC. “The court’s sanction of the MDC for spoliating evidence during the litigation is a reminder that prison officials are not above the rules,” said ECBAWM attorney Katherine Rosenfeld, who, along with fellow ECBAWM attorneys Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovich, represents petitioners and the putative class. You can read the full Law.com article here.

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The Journal News Features ECBAWM’s Mamaroneck Race Discrimination Lawsuit 

On June 11, 2020, Sophie Grosserode of the Westchester/Rockland Journal News featured ECBAWM’s lawsuit on behalf of a Mamaroneck family against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, which alleges that the School District failed to address years of egregious student-on-student racial harassment.  The article highlights prior allegations that Mamaroneck tolerated racism in its schools and emphasizes that numerous families have since reached out to the firm to recount their own experiences of abuse and harassment.

Plaintiffs A.A., B.A., and C.A. are represented by ECBAWM attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma L Freeman. Read a copy of the Complaint here.

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