The State of New York has paid $3 million to the family of a developmentally disabled boy who was repeatedly sexually assaulted and abused by an employee at the State-run group home near Utica where he lived. The abuse took place over multiple years, and was discovered after photos and videos the abuser, Steven DeProspero, had made of the assaults were found on his computer. DeProspero is currently incarcerated under both state and federal convictions for crimes related to the abuse.
ECBAWM attorneys Ilann Maazel, Andrew G. Celli, Jr., and Ali Frick represented the boy’s family. As Mr. Celli told the AP, “This is a case where you had someone who really was evil. But what failed here was the system. You have to have systems in place to ensure the safety of children who have needs, and they just fell down on the job here.”
On September 22, 2016, ECBAWM, along with Ressler and Tesh PLLC, filed a federal lawsuit in Long Island on behalf of a young, special needs child who was improperly placed by the agency SCO Family of Services in the home of an abusive pedophile: Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu. This child, who is originally from Washington State, was transferred through SCO Family of Services nearly 3,000 miles away to Mugaburu in Long Island. Once there, he suffered a fate similar to the many vulnerable boys forced to live with this madman. He was physically and mentally abused, subjected to long periods of starvation, and sexually assaulted. As alleged in the lawsuit, SCO Family of Services ignored repeated complaints about Mugaburu, including those from J.A. himself, warnings from Suffolk County’s foster agency, and numerous red flags about Mugaburu and his home.
Read more about the case and Mugaburu in press coverage by the New York Times and Daily News.
Three families have formally requested that Darcel Clark, the District Attorney for Bronx County, open a formal criminal investigation into the abuse of disabled residents at Union Avenue IRA, a group home run by New York State.
The State has not revealed how many of these alleged abusers still work for the State or with the disabled.
Last week, the families filed a civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. According to New York State’s own Justice Center, staff gave disabled residents black eyes, punched them, pulled their hair, spit on them, shoved and punched them, kicked them, smashed their heads into walls, denied them food, and botched their medical care.
A copy of the demand for a criminal investigation to the District Attorney is here.
This morning, three families filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging severe and pervasive abuse of disabled residents in a New York State group home called the Union Avenue IRA. According to New York State’s own Justice Center, staff gave disabled residents black eyes, punched them, pulled their hair, spit on them, shoved and punched them, kicked them, smashed their heads into walls, denied them food, and botched their medical care. The lawsuit also alleges that high-level State officials knew about the alleged abuse, but did nothing to stop it for months.
Staff refer to the group home as the “Bronx Zoo.” It is not known how many of these New York State employees still work for the State or with the disabled.
“It’s revolting, appalling, inhuman,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel. “This case represents a complete breakdown in hiring, training, investigation, discipline, and oversight. We call on Governor Cuomo and the Bronx District Attorney to get justice for these families, and to make sure no disabled person is abused in a New York State group home ever again.”
“Even by the standards of New York’s notorious system of care for disabled people, this case stands out as one of the most repugnant,” said David Lebowitz, another attorney for the residents’ families. “This is not a case of one or two bad apples, but an entrenched culture of cruelty tolerated by supervisors and State officials who turned their backs on vulnerable people in their care.”
A federal court has approved a $1.3 million settlement relating to the design and construction of two housing developments in Queens and Dutchess Counties, New York. The plaintiffs, a disabled woman who purchased a ground floor unit at the Queens site and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC), alleged that the developers, architects, and site engineers failed to design and build the developments in compliance with the Fair Housing Act, rendering them inaccessible to residents and guests with physical disabilities.
Defendants will pay $900,000 for damages, attorneys’ fees, and retrofits to the individual plaintiff’s unit, driveway, and sidewalks. Defendants will also retrofit ground floor units and certain common areas at the Dutchess County project at their expense and have future residential sites reviewed for compliance. In addition, the settlement provides $400,000 for the FHJC to use to provide financial assistance to income-eligible homeowners and renters with physical disabilities seeking to make accessibility modifications to their existing housing, including unit owners at the Queens development.
Plaintiffs were represented by ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Ali Frick, and by James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.
The family of K.C., a 22-year-old severely disabled man, settled a federal lawsuit in Albany against staff at the O.D. Heck Developmental Center, a New York State facility for the disabled. The lawsuit centered on the physical and verbal abuse K.C. suffered at the hands of the staff members. The abuse was first revealed by a whistleblower, who described K.C.’s horrific treatment in a sworn deposition. K.C. died in early 2011, after he was found to be severely malnourished. The family was represented by ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Hayley Horowitz.
Firm Press Release
“Mother Settles for $2.25 Million in Lawsuit Claiming Abuse of Disabled Man at O. D. Heck,” New York Times
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel, together with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of Jose Guadalupe, a mentally disabled inmate, who was severely beaten by Rikers Island guards on September 2, 2014. The assault occurred after Mr. Guadelupe voiced his objection to guards ripping down family photos and magazine clippings from the walls of his cell. Even though Mr. Guadalupe was handcuffed and not a threat, the four officers responded by throwing Mr. Guadalupe to the ground, where they repeatedly punched him in the head and kicked him in the back, legs, and ribs. Following the beating, Mr. Guadalupe was left in a hot cell for nearly six hours, going in and out of consciousness, before he was finally transported to a nearby medical center where he was treated for injuries including a concussion, bruises to his ribs, facial swelling, lower back pain, dizziness, and cuts to his lip and right eyebrow. He was confined to a wheelchair for three weeks after the assault. Mr. Guadelupe is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady and Zoe Salzman, along with Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project’s Jonathan S. Chasen and Mary Lynne Werlwas.
“Inmate claims Rikers Island guards beat him and ignored his injuries, will file lawsuit,” New York Daily News
ECBAWM has filed a federal lawsuit in Albany on behalf of a disabled woman raped by a fellow resident at a New York State group home. The suit, against four employees of the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities, alleges that staff turned a blind eye to the disabled woman’s prior complaints of sexual abuse and failed to take basic steps to protect her. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages. ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. Maazel, Diane Houk, and Sam Shapiro filed the suit.
“Rape at group home alleged,” Times-Union
Today, ECBAWM filed a disability discrimination lawsuit in federal court (S.D.N.Y) on behalf of Suzanne Vilchez, a paralyzed woman who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) against Yonkers-based AVR Realty and its engineering and architectural firms. The complaint alleges that the design and construction of AVR Realty’s Powell Cove Estates, a 220-unit condominium development in Queens County, New York, and Overlook Pointe in Dutchess County, New York are not accessible to persons with physical disabilities. The FHJC, who sent undercover testers to both sites, confirmed that the exterior and interior construction and design of the developments did not meet the accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk and Matthew D. Brinckerhoff of ECBAWM and James E. Bahamonde of the Law Offices of James E. Bahamonde, P.C.
Federal District Court Judge Samuel Conti granted ECBAWM’s motion for attorneys’ fees in Short v. Manhattan Apts., et al., on June 10, 2013. The lawsuit, which alleged housing discrimination by Defendants Manhattan Apartments and Abba Realty, culminated in a week-long bench trial in October 2012. The Court found that the defendants discriminated against prospective renters living with HIV/AIDS who received a housing subsidy from New York City’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (“HASA”) and awarded damages to the individual plaintiff and the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”), which conducted corroborative testing. The decision in this case was the first to find discrimination against a HASA client under a 2008 New York City law that prohibits housing discrimination based on lawful source of income.
Judge Conti awarded $507,031.65 in fees and costs to Plaintiffs’ attorneys, noting the significance of the case and the broad injunctive relief awarded. The plaintiffs are represented by Diane L. Houk of ECBAWM, along with co-counsel Armen Merjian and Robert Bacigalupi of Housing Works.