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Federal Court Denies Motion to Dismiss ECBAWM’s False Positives Class-Action Against Microgenics Corp. and Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc.

On March 22, 2021, Federal Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon of the Eastern District of New York denied a motion brought by Microgenics Corporation and Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc. to dismiss a proposed class-action lawsuit filed by ECBAWM and Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York on behalf of state prisoners who were severely punished based solely on the unreliable drug testing services supplied by Defendants. The Court’s decision means that ECBAWM and PLS-NY will continue to press forward with their efforts to hold Defendants accountable for the severe harms hundreds of people suffered, including being wrongfully placed in solitary confinement, being removed from family reunification programs, and even being held in prison beyond their sentences.

ECBAWM’s Matthew D. Brinckerhoff and Ananda Burra represent the plaintiffs.

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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)

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.

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ECBAWM Client’s Essay on Prison Abuse Published in The Appeal

In his article for The Appeal, “In This Moment of Reckoning Around Police Violence, Don’t Forget the Unseen Abuses of People Who Are Incarcerated,” our client Vernon Horn writes of his firsthand experiences being brutalized while in prison. Mr. Horn served 17 years for a crime he did not commit before being exonerated. We currently represent Mr. Horn in his civil lawsuit against the City of New Haven, three individual police officers, and a Connecticut firearms examiner based on conduct that we allege included fabrication and concealing of evidence leading to his wrongful conviction.

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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.

Article

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 Client Files Religious Head Covering Class Action Against Yonkers

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.”

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

For more information, read coverage from The Huffington Post, NBC News, and Lohud.

Article

ECBAWM, Legal Aid File Civil Rights Lawsuit on Behalf of Client Who Was Illegally Shackled During Labor and After the Delivery of Her Son

On March 12, 2020, ECBAWM and co-counsel the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit against the City of New York and several NYPD officers on behalf of an anonymous woman, “Jane Doe,” who was arrested and shackled when she was 40 weeks and two days pregnant. The minor charges on which Ms. Doe was arrested were ultimately dismissed.

NYPD officers forced Ms. Doe to labor alone in a holding cell at the NYPD’s 75th Precinct in Brooklyn while they celebrated at a holiday party. When officers finally agreed to seek medical care for Ms. Doe, they handcuffed and shackled her to an ambulance gurney and hospital bed. They removed the restraints only just before Ms. Doe delivered her newborn son and replaced them almost immediately after. After her baby was transferred to the NICU, officers would not permit Ms. Doe to visit him without first shackling her legs together.

Medical experts and correctional experts unanimously agree that pregnant women should not be shackled by law enforcement absent the most extraordinary circumstances. Such extraordinary circumstances are limited to situations where a woman poses a significant risk of injury to herself or others that cannot be addressed by less restrictive means.

ECBAWM’s Katie Rosenfeld and Andrew Jondahl, along with Anne Oredeko and Anthony Posada of the Legal Aid Society, represent Ms. Doe.

Press Release
“NYPD handcuffed woman to hospital bed as she was about to give birth, says lawsuit,” New York Daily News
“New York woman was shackled to bed during childbirth, lawsuit says,” The Guardian
“Woman Sues City After NYPD Handcuffs Her During Active Labor And Immediately After Delivery,” Gothamist

 

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Federal Court Permits Prison Death Case to Go Forward

A judge in the Western District of Oklahoma rejected a motion to dismiss filed by state prison officials seeking to end a lawsuit by the family of a 21-year-old young man who died in prison from untreated appendicitis. The court held that Joshua England’s family could continue its claim that prison officials violated Joshua’s Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by ignoring his repeated, anguished pleas for medical help over the course of days before he died alone on the floor of his prison cell. The court also permitted all of the state law claims to go forward. And the court refused to dismiss the senior official defendants – the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the warden of the prison – from the case. Now Joshua’s family can move forward with seeking accountability for Joshua’s untimely, entirely preventable death of a common and treatable illness.

ECBAWM attorneys Katherine Rosenfeld and Ali Frick represent Joshua’s family, along with co-counsel Paul DeMuro and Henry A. “Hank” Meyer, III.

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