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Lawsuit Challenges Louisville’s Military-Grade Protest Response

ECBAWM and co-counsel the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky filed a class-action lawsuit against the City of Louisville, Kentucky, its Mayor Greg Fischer, and several Louisville Metropolitan Police Department (“LMPD”) officials and officers to enjoin the LMPD from using military-grade crowd control weapons against peaceful protesters, and it seeks damages on behalf of several such protesters who have already been harmed by these brutish tactics.

After the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many other Black people who have died at the hands of police, people in Louisville joined in the wave of protests across the country to advocate for an end to racist and violent policing. In response to this courageous exercise of First Amendment rights, the LMPD attacked the peaceful crowds, indiscriminately firing at them with tear gas, pepper bullets, flash bangs, and other military-grade weapons designed for enemy combat. In some cases, officers fired live ammunition into the crowds, striking several protesters. When journalists attempted to document this unconstitutional use of force, officers tracked them down and sprayed them with more pepper bullets and beat them with batons.

“Louisville is using weapons of war against its own citizens,” said ECBAWM partner Sam Shapiro. “It is trying to silence peaceful protestors through unjustified arrests and trumped-up charges. Shockingly, its mayor and the leadership of the LMPD are endorsing this unconstitutional conduct. Our clients are committed to fighting back against these practices. They are bringing this case to make Louisville safe for all peaceful protestors.”

To read the complaint, click here.

To read a press release about this lawsuit, click here.

ECBAWM’s Earl S. WardO. Andrew F. WilsonSam Shapiro, and Andrew Jondahl, along with attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky represent Plaintiffs.

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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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The Journal News Features ECBAWM’s Mamaroneck Race Discrimination Lawsuit 

On June 11, 2020, Sophie Grosserode of the Westchester/Rockland Journal News featured ECBAWM’s lawsuit on behalf of a Mamaroneck family against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, which alleges that the School District failed to address years of egregious student-on-student racial harassment.  The article highlights prior allegations that Mamaroneck tolerated racism in its schools and emphasizes that numerous families have since reached out to the firm to recount their own experiences of abuse and harassment.

Plaintiffs A.A., B.A., and C.A. are represented by ECBAWM attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma L Freeman. Read a copy of the Complaint here.

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Westchester Students File Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Mamaroneck Union Free School District For Failing to Address Egregious Racial Harassment

May 18, 2020 – Today, A.A.—a 15-year-old African-American teenager—and his 14-year-old sister, B.A., filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Mamaroneck Union Free School District, Mamaroneck High School, and their employees for their indifference to years of racial harassment. The lawsuit (filed anonymously to protect the children’s privacy), alleges school administrators took inadequate steps to ameliorate pervasive racism.

The Mamaroneck Union Free School District has been the subject of multiple investigations by state and federal agencies for racial discrimination and animosity—including by the federal Office of Civil Rights and the State Education Department. Despite these investigations and numerous pleas from parents at School Board and Town Hall meetings, the lawsuit alleges the Defendants have taken insufficient steps to address the District’s severe racism problem.

After years of abuse, when he was thirteen, A.A. asked his Mamaroneck Middle School guidance counselor: “How many times is enough for the N-word to be mentioned?” The lawsuit recounts a litany of racial harassment spanning nearly a decade, including an incident in B.A.’s second-grade when a student shouted, “Africans Are Annoying!” as other students laughed. In seventh grade, one of A.A.’s classmates mimicked whipping another, and said: “I’m whipping you like a n***r.” In ninth grade, A.A.’s classmates ask him if he was a “BBC,” meaning “big black c**k.” Other classmates placed microscope covers over their heads during Biology class, stating that they were in the KKK and telling A.A. that he could not join.

The family reported incident after incident, but the lawsuit alleges that administrators failed to take adequate steps to address the abuse. Instead, the case argues, they offered platitudes about diversity, claimed students were going through phases, or insisted those students were otherwise good people.

O. Andrew F. Wilson, of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP, said: “Racism in our schools is intolerable. And superficial efforts to address systemic problems are not enough. We must hold our educators responsible not only to act, but to act effectively.”

“What happened to A.A. and B.A. should never happen to any child. Racist abuse is impermissible everywhere, but it is especially traumatic in schools, where young children like A.A. and B.A. internalize the cruel words of their peers. Defendants’ inexplicable choice to accept rampant bigotry is not just unlawful—it is immoral,” said ECBAWM attorney Emma L. Freeman.

Reporting on the lawsuit appears in The Loop, here, in Lohud, here, in Black Westchester, here, and in Patch, here.

A.A. and B.A. are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew Wilson and Emma L. Freeman.  You can read a copy of the Complaint 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.

To read about the denial of the Respondent’s motion to strike, click here.

To read more about Chunn et al. v. Edge, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit and expert report by the Intercept, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit and expert report by the NY Daily News, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Law Journal, click here.

To hear WNYC’s coverage of the case, click here.

ECBAWM Attorneys Katie Rosenfeld, Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovichrepresent petitioners and the putative class.

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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 Sothern 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.

A full copy of the decision can be found here.  Reporting on the decision in Reuters can be found here and on Bloomberg Quint here.

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.

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ECBAWM Client Files Religious Head Covering Class Action Against Yonkers

April 8, 2020 – Together with the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP (ECBAWM), filed a class action civil rights law lawsuit in federal court seeking an injunction to block the Yonkers Police Department (YPD) from removing arrestees’ religious head coverings for mug shots and while in custody.

The lawsuit claims that the YPD maintains a policy that forces arrestees to remove their religious head coverings while in custody—sometimes for a mug shot that is kept forever, visible to anyone with access to the YPD’s records, and sometimes for no reason at all. The YPD enforces this policy against all arrestees who wear religious head coverings—even when those head coverings, like a hijab, turban, or yarmulke, leave the entire face unobstructed.

CAIR-NY and ECBAWM filed the lawsuit this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging that the YPD removal policy violates the New York State Constitution, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).  As the lawsuit notes, municipalities across the country allow arrestees to retain religious head covering for their booking photos.  In addition, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles allows applicants to retain religious head coverings for driver’s license photos; the U.S. State Department maintains the same accommodation for passport photos.

In a statement, the CAIR-NY Litigation Director, Ahmed Mohamed, said: “It is unacceptable that the City of Yonkers would cling to a policy that degrades and humiliates Muslim women, and others, by forcing them to remove their head covering against their sincerely held religious beliefs. This policy is illegal. Ms. Malkawi should be applauded for her courage to step forward and fight this unjust policy that has caused her and many others unimaginable pain and suffering.”

“The Yonkers policy is out of step with the Constitution, federal law, and a growing consensus of national law departments that all respect people’s rights to wear religious head covering,” said ECBAWM attorney O. Andrew F. Wilson.

“There is no legitimate need for law enforcement to remove religious head coverings for mug shots or any other purpose,” said ECBAWM attorney Emma L. Freeman.  “In 2020, the state should not be coercing people in its custody to violate their religious beliefs.”

Ihsan Malkawi, a practicing Muslim-American woman, brings the case on behalf of herself and others impacted by the policy.  While in the YPD’s custody, Ms. Malkawi was forced to endure a full day and night without her hijab, and was paraded uncovered past numerous strangers—many men—throughout the YPD’s facilities and while in court for her arraignment.

According to the complaint, “Yonkers Police Department (YPD) officers instructed Ihsan Malkawi . . . to remove her hijab so they could photograph her. Ms. Malkawi pleaded with them not to remove it.  She explained that her hijab—a headscarf she wears daily to cover her hair and signify modesty and devotion to the Muslim faith—is not a fashion accessory, but an essential component of her religion. The officers did not listen.  They told Ms. Malkawi—falsely—that the law required her to remove her hijab.  Distraught by this coerced violation of her religious practice, yet fearful of the legal repercussions if she did not comply, Ms. Malkawi wept while she did as she was told.”

For more information, read coverage from The Huffington Post, NBC News, Lohud and The Union Journal. Read the CAIR-NY’s press release here.

Ms. Malkawi is represented by ECBAWM attorneys O. Andrew F. Wilson and Emma Freeman.

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Class Action Seeks Release of 540 People and Changes to Protect Others Confined at Brooklyn MDC from the Novel COVID-19 Virus

March 27, 2020 — Petitioners Hassan Chunn, Nehemiah McBride, Ayman Rabadi, and Justin Rodriguez filed a class action lawsuit today against Warden Derek Edge in federal court. The case seeks the immediate release of approximately 540 people most vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19 and a special master to oversee improvements in the conditions of confinement at Brooklyn’s federal jail, Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”), to combat the spread of the virus.

New York City is the epicenter of the Country’s struggle with COVID-19. The risks posed by COVID-19 to people confined in jails and prisons—in terms of transmission, exposure, and harm—are stark and alarming. For reasons beyond their control, people in jails and prisons cannot practice social distancing, control their exposure to large groups, practice increased hygiene, wear protective clothing, obtain specific products for cleaning or laundry, avoid high-touch surfaces, or sanitize their own environment. People in jails and prisons are more vulnerable and susceptible to the risks of coronavirus because they are more likely to have chronic underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung and liver diseases, asthma, and lower immune systems from HIV. People have limited opportunities to access medical care under normal circumstances in jails; medical facilities are limited, and as staff become sick, fewer people are present to care for those who remain confined.

The outbreak of a highly infectious, deadly virus in a closed detention setting is a disaster, calling for urgent and decisive action to protect the health of those confined in the jail, those who work there, and the medical professionals who will treat those who become infected.

The lawsuit alleges that Respondent Warden Derek Edge has not taken steps to protect Petitioners from the substantial risk of harm posed by COVID-19, nor could he under the MDC’s current conditions.  It seeks immediate relief on the grounds that every hour that Petitioners are held under these circumstances, they are exposed to the substantial risk of a COVID-19 infection, with a substantial risk of death to follow and that continuing to hold vulnerable people under these circumstances violates their Constitutional rights.

ECBAWM Attorneys Katie Rosenfeld, Andrew Wilson, Sam Shapiro, and Scout Katovich, together with the Cardozo Civil Rights Clinic, and Alexander A. Reinert, represent petitioners and the putative class.  To read a copy of the complaint, click here. To read coverage of the complaint and evolving crisis in the New York Times, click here.

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Ten ECBAWM Attorneys Named as Super Lawyers; Four Named as Rising Stars

ECBAWM is proud to announce that partners Richard EmeryAndrew CelliMatthew BrinckerhoffJonathan AbadyIlann MaazelEarl WardHal LiebermanDan KornsteinAndrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2019. Partners Zoe Salzman and Sam Shapiro and associates David Lebowitz and Alanna Kaufman were named as Rising Stars.

The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found here.

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