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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

Article

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.

Article

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.

Article

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)

Article

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.

Article

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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