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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.

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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Maazel on The Weekly

The New York Times TV series The Weekly is featuring the “Bronx Zoo” disability abuse case, ECBAWM client L.K., and ECBAWM partner Ilann Maazel. The case recently settled for $6 million and injunctive relief. More about the case can be found in the New York Times here and hereThe Weekly episode can be found on the New York Times website and streaming on Hulu.

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Family of Young Disabled Man Who Died in New York State Group Home Brings Federal Civil Rights Suit

This morning, the family of C.B., a young man with cognitive disabilities who passed away in April 2018, filed a civil rights lawsuit against employees of a group home run by New York’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (“OPWDD”). C.B. was found dead in his room at the Valley Ridge Center for Intensive Treatment on the morning of April 9, 2018, after Ashley Sessions, a Valley Ridge employee, failed to check in on him during the night as required.

C.B. died from a pulmonary embolism and heart failure. The day before his death, C.B. and his mother told State employees he couldn’t breathe. The State ignored him. C.B.’s arms and legs were massively swollen with fluid; he gained 50 pounds in a single year; he exhibited the telltale signs of heart failure. But Staff not only did nothing to help him; they repeatedly encouraged him to drink more fluids, contributing to his death.

Even as Sessions failed to check on C.B. as required during the night of his death, C.B. asphyxiated on fluids in his lungs. Sessions then lied to the police to try to cover up her misconduct. She ultimately pled guilty to the crime of filing false statements.

C.B.’s mother, J.M., filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Valley Ridge employees were deliberately indifferent to C.B.’s health and welfare and that the little medical care they did provide was woefully deficient.

“C.B.’s tragic death should never have happened,” C.B.’s family’s attorney, Ilann M. Maazel, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel, said. “State employees ignored the obvious signs that a disabled man’s health was rapidly deteriorating, then left him alone to die a horrible death in his bedroom. It’s unconscionable.”

“C.B.’s dire condition was plain to see,” added Samuel Shapiro, another attorney representing the family, “but the staff here just didn’t care enough to look.”

ECBAWM’s Ilann M. Maazel, Samuel Shapiro, and Ali Frick represent C.B.’s family.

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“Bronx Zoo” Case Settles for $6 Million and Transfer of Control of State Facility

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 residents like “animals in the zoo.” 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.”

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.”

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 Ward & Maazel. “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 ECBAWM were also counsel in the cases of Jonathan Carey, Eddie Velasquez, and K.C.

“$6 Million for Disabled Adults Who Were Punched and Spat At,” New York Times
“Disabled Bronx women get $6M in state-run group home ‘abuse’ settlement,” New York Post
“New York state will pay $6 million to families of disabled residents who claimed abuse at group home in the Bronx,” New York Daily News

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ECBAWM Files Lawsuit on Behalf of Family of Elderly Resident Left to Die in Albany County Nursing Home

As reported in the Albany-Times Union, this morning, the daughter of Albany resident Roger Sanford filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the Albany County Nursing Home, its Executive Director Larry Slatky, and other Nursing Home staff, for civil rights violations and wrongful death.

On March 1, 2018, Mr. Sanford’s daughter found him alone in his Nursing Home room, gasping for air, drenched in sweat, with an oxygen tube dangling from his nose. This followed months where Mr. Sanford was often unchanged, unfed, unmedicated, unwashed, unshaven, and even covered in his own urine and feces, the Complaint alleges. Mr. Sanford died as a result of the Nursing Home’s reckless disregard for his life.

A New York State Department of Health investigation found that the Nursing Home violated federal laws by failing to provide Mr. Sanford with basic life support or CPR; failing to follow professional standards of practice; and failing to provide Mr. Sanford with necessary respiratory care.

As alleged in the Complaint, when Mr. Sanford’s daughter complained to Executive Director Slatky about her father’s poor care, Mr. Slatky boasted that a relative of a Nursing Home employee worked in the Department of Health’s complaint department and would make sure any complaint against the Nursing Home disappeared.

“My hope and prayer is that our lawsuit will force Albany County Nursing Home to provide much safer care and services and that reckless and negligent deaths will be prevented. My father suffered horrifically, he was grossly neglected, he was denied basic medical care and he died prematurely because staff refused to get him to the hospital for days or even bother to call 911 when he was in a dire medical emergency. It broke my heart to find my father lying in his bed gasping for air, sweating profusely with no one there to assist him or help save his life.” said Lori LaRock, Mr. Sanford’s daughter.

“We expect nursing homes to take care of our loved ones, not to let them suffer and die alone,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel. “Albany County Nursing Home’s treatment of Mr. Sanford was unconscionable and indefensible.”

“No one should have to endure what Mr. Sanford’s family went through,” said David Berman, another lawyer for Mr. Sanford’s family. “Albany County Nursing Home must be held accountable for Mr. Sanford’s suffering.”

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ECBAWM Settles Disability Wrongful Death Case for $2.25 Million

As reported in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, ECBAWM has settled the case of Eddie Velasquez, a disabled man who died in a New York State group home. Eddie choked to death on a piece of turkey left unsecured and uncut in a kitchen refrigerator. An internal investigation revealed lapses in training and staffing and a series of failures by New York State employees that led to Eddie’s death. ECBAWM attorney Ilann Maazel represented the Velasquez family in the case.

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Court Rules Cosmetic Surgeon Illegally Denied Surgery to Patient Living with HIV

Judge Analisa Torres of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that a New York cosmetic surgeon violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York City Human Rights Law when he refused to treat patients living with HIV. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel and the HIV Law Project represent Mark Milano, a man living with HIV who was summarily turned away by Dr. Emanuel Asare after Asare said he had a policy against performing surgery on people living with HIV. The District Court granted summary judgment to Mr. Milano and the United States government, which also sued the physician, ruling that Asare’s blanket policy violated the law.

“Even after having lived with HIV for 30 years, the statement from Dr. Asare that it was his policy to never perform any procedures on people with HIV was like a punch in the gut,” Mr. Milano said. “It left me on the verge of tears. I had never experienced such blatant HIV discrimination in my life. Since then, I have heard similar stories from friends about other cosmetic surgeons. No one should have to go through this. People with HIV have as much right to cosmetic surgery as anybody else.”

Mr. Milano was represented by Matthew Brinckerhoff and Ali Frick. Speaking to the Associated Press, Ms. Frick praised the court for “elevat[ing] science and facts over fear and prejudice.” the New York Law Journal also covered the decision.

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$125K Settlement in ECBAWM Housing Discrimination Case

A White Plains housing cooperative and rental management company have paid $125,000 to settle a housing discrimination case initiated by M. Forster, a 34-year old disabled man living in Westchester County, New York. Mr. Forster sought to purchase an apartment in a building owned by the coop and managed by the rental company using his special needs trust but was told that ownership by trust was not permitted. The suit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, challenged the coop’s and management company’s refusal to grant Mr. Forster a reasonable accommodation.  The settlement was covered by Westfair Online here, and a press release issued by the government can be found here.

ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Alanna Kaufman represented Mr. Forster and his special needs trust.

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Federal Court Rejects Motion to Dismiss the “Bronx Zoo” Group Home Lawsuit

On July 5, 2017, federal judge Paul A. Engelmayer denied motions brought by several New York State employees to dismiss a lawsuit filed by ECBAWM on behalf of family members of three developmentally disabled adults alleging rampant abuse and neglect at a State-run group home in the Bronx. In an opinion noting that the facts in the complaint were enough to “shock the conscience,” Judge Engelmayer upheld claims under city, state, and federal law, seeking both monetary damages and an injunction to protect residents’ civil rights. The decision finds that the lawsuit adequately alleged that state-employed facility staff “cruelly abused persons with disabilities for no valid reason, but instead out of malice, spite, impatience, or sport,” concluding that such “physical abuse of helpless persons cannot be said to serve a legitimate governmental interest in a civilized society.” The opinion also finds the allegations sufficient to claim that supervisors and administrators within New York State’s Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) were reckless in failing to stop the abuse, referring to an OPWDD Regional Director as “taking woefully insufficient action” and responding “minimally if at all” to abuse and neglect reports.

ECBAWM’s Ilann Maazel and David Lebowitz represent the plaintiffs. To read the opinion, click here. To read past coverage of this case, click here.

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Justice Department Files Discrimination Suit On Behalf of ECBAWM Clients

On March 1, 2017, the United States filed a housing discrimination suit on behalf of several ECBAWM clients against Bedford Development LLC, Carnegie Construction Corp., Jobco Inc., Robert Pascucci, and Warshauer Mellusi Warshauer Architects, P.C. The complaint alleges that these defendants failed to design and construct Sutton Manor condominium in Mount Kisco, New York, in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities. ECBAWM represents several disabled residents who purchased units at Sutton Manor based on the false promise of an accessible home to live in post-retirement. This suit originates from complaints ECBAWM filed on behalf of these residents with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. They are represented by Diane L. Houk and Jessica Clarke of ECBAWM.

To read more about the complaint, click here.

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