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ECBAWM Files Excessive Force Lawsuit on Behalf of Man Paralyzed by NYPD Officers

On June 2, 2021, ECBAWM filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Peyman Bahadoran, a former Wall Street trader who is now paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by NYPD officers during a non-violent confrontation. As detailed in the complaint, Mr. Bahadoran—who suffers from bipolar disorder—experienced a manic episode on June 4, 2020 outside a Manhattan deli after days of seeing violence between police and Black Lives Matter protesters outside his home near Union Square. NYPD officers on the scene did not even attempt to use non-lethal techniques to subdue Mr. Bahadoran. Instead, two NYPD officers shot Mr. Bahadoran in the spine and left arm. He was unarmed and non-violent at the time the officers shot him. He is now paralyzed and unable to control any body function below his waist.

Security and body camera footage of the shooting have been widely circulated in the news media and confirm that the officers’ force was excessive. “The body camera footage shows clearly that Mr. Bahadoran was unarmed when shot,” said Mr. Bahadoran’s lawyer Earl Ward. “It further disproves the claim by the department that he was ‘reaching’ and ‘lunging.’ He posed no deadly risk and now there’s a bullet lodged in his spine and he may never walk again.”

ECBAWM’s Earl Ward, Jonathan Abady, and Marissa Benavides represent Mr. Bahadoran in the suit.

Read the filed complaint

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ECBAWM Obtains Class Certification for MDC Blackout Plaintiffs

In a ruling on May 25, 2021, U.S. District Judge Edward Korman of the Eastern District of New York granted class certification to a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of people incarcerated in the west building of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn (“MDC”) during the eight-day blackout in winter of 2019. To date almost 1,700 people have been identified as class members.

“Taken together, this evidence paints a harrowing picture of prison conditions in the wake of the fire and power outage,” Judge Korman wrote in the Memorandum and Order. “In particular, the evidence describes a series of inhumane and potentially dangerous conditions that affected residents throughout the West Building during the week without power.”

ECBAWM partner Katherine Rosenfeld praised the decision. “Although the BOP treated the people confined in the MDC during the blackout as though they were less than human – leaving almost 2,000 locked in dark, freezing conditions for a week without adequate food, medicine, clothing, blankets, or any way to communicate with their families – the Court’s decision affirms that everyone who experienced this crisis can bring their claim to the federal court with the benefit of counsel,” said Rosenfeld.

The class will be represented by Rosenfeld, ECBAWM partner O. Andrew F. Wilson, ECBAWM associate Scout Katovich, and ECBAWM Justice Catalyst Fellow Sonya Levitova, along with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Professors Alexander Reinert and Betsy Ginsberg.

For information about the class action, including case updates, please visit MDCBlackout.com.

Press
“Inmates Jailed at Brooklyn Federal Lockup During 2019 Freeze, Blackout Certified as Class,” New York Law Journal
“Judge says nearly 1,700 inmates can sue Brooklyn’s MDC jail as a group over freezing conditions in 2019,” New York Daily News
“Class certified over 2019 winter power outage at Brooklyn jail,” Reuters

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ECBAWM Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Ocoee and Windermere (FL) Police

Jean Samuel Celestin died unnecessarily at the hands of Florida police officers on April 11, 2019. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Ocoee (FL), the town of Windermere (FL), four Ocoee Police Department (“OPD”) officers, and one Windermere Police Department (“WPD”) officer, on behalf of Mr. Celestin’s family. The suit, filed along with co-counsel King & Markman, P.A., alleges that Mr. Celestin was deprived of his constitutional rights when the officers physically restrained to him to the point that he lost consciousness and died. Mr. Celestin’s family seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

On April 11, 2019, Mr. Celestin’s mother and sister called 911 to ask for assistance because Mr. Celestin was in a mental health crisis and was expressing delusional thoughts. The road patrol officers, violating standard procedures for interacting with people in distress, treated Mr. Celestin as a dangerous criminal, rather than a mental health patient in need of emergency treatment. Though Crisis Intervention Teams have existed in Ocoee for over 20 years, in order to reduce the risk of serious injury or death during an emergency interaction between persons with mental illness and police officers, the responding officers failed to engage such a team.

The officers also refused to handcuff Mr. Celestin when he offered his wrists in surrender, and tased him multiple times. They also restrained him with a controversial “hobble” restraint, also known as a “hogtie,” which has been known to cause death by positional asphyxia since at least 1995. OPD and WPD officers left Mr. Celestin hogtied and face-down in the grass for almost an entire minute. The coroner’s report indicates that this hogtie was a proximate cause of Mr. Celestin’s death.

“Samuel Celestin is no longer with us for one reason and one reason only: because police officers treated a sick person in need of help like a dangerous criminal who had just committed a violent felony,” said Andrew G. Celli, Jr., an ECBAWM attorney representing the plaintiff. “The failings that killed Samuel are systemic; they reflect inadequate training and the misuse of equipment; extremely poor tactical conduct by the officers—including intentional escalation of a conflict when de-escalation was called for; and an utter failure to assist a person in distress. This case will expose all of that and more.”

Along with Mr. Celli, the Celestin family is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan Abady, Earl Ward, and Andrew Jondahl, along with Jeremy Markman from King & Markman, P.A. in Orlando, FL. For additional information, see this press release and the complaint.

Press
“Family of man who died after being tased by Ocoee police discusses newly filed lawsuit,” WFTV
“Family suing Ocoee police after deadly encounter,” Fox 35 Orlando
“Police who tased Ocoee man during mental health crisis should face charges in his death, family says,” Orlando Sentinel

 

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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, 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

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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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ECBAWM Secures Landmark Settlement Between Voting Rights Advocates and Private Security Company Charged with Voter Intimidation

A federal judge has approved a sweeping settlement in a lawsuit brought by voting rights advocates against a private security contractor, Atlas Aegis, for illegal voter intimidation in Minnesota. ECBAWM’s clients, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota (LWV-MN), celebrated the settlement as a major victory for democracy.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy E. Brasel approved a consent decree that resolves all remaining claims in the lawsuit. Under the consent decree, which lasts until January 1, 2025, Atlas Aegis and its Chairman and co-founder Anthony Caudle are:

  • Prohibited from deploying armed agents within 250 feet of (or otherwise monitoring) any early voting location during early voting, a polling place on election day, places where ballots are being counted, recounted, or canvassed; or where county canvassing boards or the State Canvassing Board are meeting to canvass, inspect, or declare the results of that election; or where Minnesota’s presidential electors are meeting to vote in the presidential general election.
  • Prohibited from otherwise taking any action to intimidate, threaten, or coerce voters, people aiding voters, or people engaged in tabulating, counting, or reporting votes.
  • Required to notify CAIR-MN and LWV-MN in writing 25 days before any federal election if they are supplying security personnel for any non-election-related protective services (e.g., providing security for an art exhibition or concert) where armed security personnel may be visible to the public within 250 feet of a polling place on election day.

Any violations of the consent decree will be enforceable as contempt of court.

The consent decree approved by the federal court requires the plaintiffs to state as follows:

“This matter has been resolved by agreement. The parties have agreed that Defendants shall be restricted in their actions as set forth in the terms of the attached Consent Decree. Defendants have not admitted any liability and specifically deny they have committed any statutory violation.”

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan Abady, Matthew Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Debra Greenberger, and Vivake Prasad, as well as Free Speech For People and Lathrop GPM LLP.

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Court Certifies Class in ECBAWM, STOP Religious Headcovering Lawsuit

On February 16, 2020, federal judge Analisa Torres of the United States District Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification on behalf of all New Yorkers forced to remove their religious head coverings for photographs while in NYPD custody. ECBAWM filed the case for the Plaintiffs, together with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (“STOP”). The decision means that Plaintiffs’ case for damages will proceed as a class action and that, if found liable, the City must pay damages to each and every individual whose religious rights were violated under the NYPD policy.

“Every New Yorker whose religious head covering was forcibly removed by the NYPD in violation of their religious rights should be entitled to compensation. This decision gives us a mechanism to make that happen,” said O. Andrew F. Wilson, a partner at ECBAWM.

This ruling followed Judge Torres’s September 30, 2020 rejection of the City of New York’s motion to dismiss 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.

Judge Torres wrote: “The Policy compels all individuals to remove religious headwear when sitting for a booking photograph…As a result, every member of the class will have the same claim because each member objects, due to their sincerely-held religious beliefs, to some or all of the activity the policy compels.”

Emma L. Freeman, an attorney at ECBAWM, said: “The Court’s ruling confirms that all New Yorkers—no matter what their religious practices—deserve compensation for being forced to take an uncovered mug shot.”

“This lawsuit already blocked the NYPD from removing New Yorkers’ head coverings in the future, but today’s decision brings us one step closer to justice for New Yorkers who were harmed in the past,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Far too many New Yorkers have already been targeted, humiliated, and stripped for their religious head coverings. These New Yorkers deserve justice for what they’ve suffered, and it’s long past time for the City to pay.”

Plaintiffs’ class action Complaint is available here. The Court’s Decision and Order certifying the class is available here.

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Emma L. Freeman, as well as S.T.O.P.’s Albert Fox Cahn.

If you or anyone you know has been forced to remove a religious head covering while in NYPD custody, please contact ECBAWM through its website.

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