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Firm Client Advocates for New Law to Reform Solitary Confinement in New York State Prisons

Firm client Darlene McDay hailed the passage on March 18, 2021 of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act after the New York State Senate voted to pass the new law.  The statute limits the time a person in state prison can spend in segregated confinement and ends the use of solitary confinement on vulnerable people.  Ms. McDay is the mother of Dante Taylor, a 22-year old man who died at Wende Correctional Facility on October 7, 2017, after prolonged solitary confinement and assault by staff.  Since her son’s death, Ms. McDay has become a member of the HALT solitary confinement campaign and joined their efforts to advocate for the passage of the legislation.

 This Bill can be read in its entirety here, and coverage on the passage of HALT Solitary Confinement Act discussing Ms. McDay’s advocacy can be found here.

 Firm lawyers Katie Rosenfeld and Marissa Benavides represent Ms. McDay in this case.

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ECBAWM, as Independent Investigator, Releases Report on the City of Rochester’s Response to the Death of Daniel Prude

On September 16, 2020, the Rochester City Council, by Ordinance No. 2020-283, appointed our law firm, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel, LLP (“ECBAWM”), to serve as Special Council Investigator to investigate the City’s response to the arrest and death of Daniel Prude. On March 12, 2021, we released our final Report of the Investigation.

The Report reflects six months’ worth of work by ECBAWM lawyers and staff; it is over 50 pages in length, and it contains dozens of factual findings, as well as an analysis of the facts as found. No brief public statement can summarize those findings, that analysis, or the Report as a whole. We urge any interested person to take the time to read the Report in full. That said, when our firm was appointed, we committed that our work would answer the fundamental question that many people in the Rochester community were urgently asking, and that many continue to demand an answer to today:

Did officials of City government suppress information about the arrest and death of Daniel Prude between March 23, 2020, when the arrest occurred, and September 2, 2020, when the Prude family publicly released body-worn camera footage of the incident?
The straightforward answer is yes. The Investigation revealed no explanation that fully accounts for the more than four-month delay between the death of an unarmed man at the hands of Rochester police, and public disclosure of the facts and circumstances under which the death occurred — other than a decision or series of decisions not to make such disclosure.
The Investigation uncovered a great deal of evidence and reached specific, sometimes nuanced, conclusions. Understanding that evidence and those conclusions require consideration of the full Report, with time and attention to detail.

The Investigation was conducted by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr.Katherine Rosenfeld, and Scout Katovich; and was supported by paralegals Kathryn Ravey and Jocelyn Rodriguez.

Supporting documentation for the Report can be found at RochesterInvestigation.com.

Media coverage of this Report has been reported by the Associated Press, the Democrat & Chronicle, and NBC New York.

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ECBAWM Files Putative Class Action on Behalf of Inmates Denied Rehab, Early Release

ECBAWM has filed a putative class action on behalf of Michael Matzell, who was formerly incarcerated in a New York State Department of Corrections (“DOCCS”) facility, and other similarly situated individuals who were denied participation in DOCCS’ Shock Incarceration Program (“Shock”) even though their participation was court-ordered.

Shock is a six-month boot-camp style program that provides incarcerated people with substance abuse treatment, therapy, education, and other reintegration services. As part of New York State’s Drug Reform Act of 2009, sentencing judges have the authority to order participation in the Shock program. Once participation is ordered by a court, the DOCCS does not have discretion to deny participation.

Yet, that is exactly what the DOCCS did to Mr. Matzell and over 300 other incarcerated people who were entitled to participate in Shock. Rather than follow the law, DOCCS created its own program criteria that denied Mr. Matzell – and hundreds of others – entry into the program. Inexplicably, one of the criteria DOCCS cited in improperly denying Mr. Matzell participation in the program that would have provided him with substance abuse treatment is that he had received an infraction for substance abuse.

By acting outside the bounds of their legal authority, DOCCS staff denied class members of the early release they would have been entitled to upon completion of the Shock program. For Mr. Matzell, this means he was forced to serve an additional 506 days that he would not have had to serve had he been allowed to participate in Shock as ordered by the court.

ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld, Debra Greenberger, and Vivake Prasad represent the plaintiffs.

Related Press
“N.Y. prisons ignore court orders that inmates go to rehab: suit” (New York Daily News)

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Time Magazine Publishes Profile of Jamel Floyd Family

Time magazine has published an in-depth profile of the family of Jamel Floyd in the aftermath of his death. Mr. Floyd died on June 3, 2020 at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, after Federal Bureau of Prisons corrections officers pepper-sprayed him and subjected him to excessive force. ECBAWM partner Katie Rosenfeld and associate Nick Bourland represent Jamel’s family in an investigation into his death.

The complete article by Time reporter Sanya Mansoor is accompanied by a photo essay by Yuki Iwamura of Jamel’s wake, funeral, and internment.

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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, New York, 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: “City Council to hold listening session about recent events” and “Warren, Singletary, Lupien to testify in independent Prude investigation.”

To see the documents made public, pertinent to this investigation, click 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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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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ECBAWM Represents Jamel Floyd’s Family in Investigation Into Mr. Floyd’s Senseless Death at the MDC

ECBAWM is representing Donna Mays, the mother of Jamel Floyd, and their family, in an investigation into the tragic, untimely death of Mr. Floyd, who died on June 3, 2020 while incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”) in Brooklyn, a prison operated by the United States Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”). Mr. Floyd, a 35-year old Black man, was eligible for parole in only three months and had planned to rejoin his family in Hempstead, Long Island. According to initial reports, on June 3, Mr. Floyd—who was asthmatic—was pepper-sprayed by correction officers while he was locked in his cell, subjected to force, placed in restraints, and removed from his cell, at which point he was found to be unresponsive. He was then taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The DOJ and FBI are both investigating Mr. Floyd’s death.

Mr. Floyd’s family has led the call for justice and accountability at protests outside the MDC, demanding answers about the violence and force that caused Jamel’s death. Mr. Floyd’s death has sparked outrage throughout New York City and beyond as millions of individuals continue to protest the deaths of African American people resulting from excessive force at the hands of law enforcement officers.

Read coverage of Mr. Floyd’s death in the New York Daily News and Newsweek.

Information regarding ECBAWM’s current class action litigation challenging conditions of confinement at MDC can be found here.

ECBAWM Attorneys Katherine Rosenfeld, Earl S. Ward, and Nick Bourland represent Ms. Mays and the family of Jamel Floyd.

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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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ECBAWM and Co-Counsel File Medical Expert’s Report Finding Serious Failures in Jail’s Coronavirus Response

On April 30, 2020, ECBAWM along with co-counsel the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, Alexander A. Reinert, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, filed a motion 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. The motion seeks relief for medically vulnerable people incarcerated in the MDC and improved conditions. The report submitted in support of the motion by Dr. Homer Venters, a leading expert in health services for incarcerated people, describes the failures of the MDC to appropriately respond to protect the health and safety of people confined in the MDC and staff. After Respondent moved to strike the report, U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann denied the Respondent’s motion less than 24 hours later.

ECBAWM attorneys Katie Rosenfeld, Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovich represent petitioners and the putative class.

“Medical Expert: Federal Jail Intentionally Destroying Medical Records and Hiding Extent of Coronavirus Behind Bars,” The Intercept
“Doctor issues damning report on Brooklyn federal jail’s handling of coronavirus outbreak, calling out botched medical response and inadequate protective gear,” New York Daily News
“Brooklyn Judge Finds ‘Cautious Optimism’ in Federal Jail’s Response to COVID-19,” New York Law Journal
“Doctor Sounds Alarm: Conditions Inside Federal Jail In Brooklyn Are Promoting Spread Of COVID-19,” Gothamist

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Trump Family’s Effort to Compel Arbitration of Fraud Case Denied

On April 8, 2020, a federal court denied the attempt of Donald Trump, his immediate family, and The Trump Corporation to compel arbitration of the fraud case pending against them in the Southern District of New York. The case, filed in the fall of 2018, alleges the Trumps defrauded investors into purchasing memberships in a multi-level marketing scheme called ACN. The Trumps had argued that the court should stay the fraud case in favor of individual arbitration based on agreements that the investors had signed with ACN. The court denied the motion on the grounds that the Trumps and ACN were never sufficiently connected such that the investors would have understood that any of their contractual obligations with ACN would correspond to obligations with the Trumps.

The investors are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jonathan S. Abady, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Katherine Rosenfeld, Sam Shapiro, David Berman, and Nick Bourland.

“MGM Told to Hand Over Trump’s ‘Apprentice’ Tapes in Scam Suit,” Bloomberg Quint

 

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