Article

Federal Lawsuit Over Barbaric Shackling of Pregnant Woman Settles with New Jersey County for $750,000

Today, ECBAWM and co-counsel Gibbons P.C. announced the settlement of a lawsuit on behalf of the family of a woman who was illegally shackled by Middlesex County, New Jersey officers. The magistrate judge who presided over the case in a New Jersey federal court approved the settlement on September 7, 2022, and the agreement was publicly filed earlier today.

The plaintiff, “Jane Doe,” filed the lawsuit in July 2020. The lawsuit stated that, when she was pregnant and incarcerated in the Middlesex County Jail on a non-violent charge, Middlesex County officers and supervisors shackled her by the wrists, ankles, and waist during prenatal visits, while she was being transported to the hospital, throughout the labor process, up until the moment of an emergency Cesarian section, and even while she was recovering and attempting to bond with her newborn son. When she arrived at the hospital, the officers refused to let Ms. Doe contact her family, forcing her to endure this traumatizing experience alone.

Under the settlement, Middlesex County will pay $750,000 to Ms. Doe’s estate, believed to be one of the largest settlements ever obtained by a victim of shackling during labor. Ms. Doe tragically passed away during the litigation, but her mother “Mary Doe” continued to prosecute and settle the case on behalf of Jane Doe’s estate, and specifically her young son.

“Through this litigation, our daughter sought to inform pregnant incarcerated women of their legal rights,” Ms. Doe’s parents said. “She wanted to bring attention to the horrific harm and injustices that she endured and that so many like her continue to endure. We hope this case has served as a wakeup call to Middlesex County and to law enforcement agencies around the country. They should immediately reform their policies and respect the humanity of the people in their custody.”

Medical experts, correctional experts, and maternal and fetal health experts unanimously agree that pregnant women should not be shackled absent the most extraordinary circumstances. The American Medical Association, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all prohibit and/or oppose shackling pregnant women during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery because it poses a grave risk of harm to a pregnant woman’s health, and to the health and safety of her baby.

“According to a 2021 study, there are an estimated 58,000 admissions of pregnant women into U.S. jails and prisons every year, and thousands give birth or have other outcomes while still incarcerated. Our client Jane Doe filed this case to protect the health and dignity of incarcerated pregnant women and their babies. This settlement is an important step in ending shackling of pregnant women,” said Katie Rosenfeld, a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP and one of Jane Doe’s lawyers.

Lawrence S. Lustberg, another of Jane Doe’s lawyers, lauded both her courage in bringing the lawsuit and her parent’s tenacity in continuing it. “Were it not for people like Jane Doe and her parents, these kinds of injustices would never be redressed,” Lustberg said. Lustberg also expressed the Doe family’s appreciation for the Court’s assistance in reaching the settlement.

Article

Post-Release Supervision Class Action to Proceed to Damages Trial

In Betances v. Fischer, ECBAWM represents a class of over 3000 individuals who were administratively, unilaterally, and unlawfully sentenced to terms of post-release supervision (“PRS”) by New York State corrections and parole officials. The Plaintiff class was certified by the Court in 2015 and the Court subsequently granted summary judgment on liability to Plaintiffs, holding the Defendant State corrections and parole officials personally liable for violating Plaintiffs’ due process rights.

In advance of trial, the Defendant State officials moved to decertify the Plaintiff class on the basis that Plaintiffs’ general damages—which stem from the liberty Plaintiffs lost while on PRS or incarcerated for violating PRS—cannot be determined on a class-wide basis. In a March 14, 2022 decision, United States Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger denied Defendants’ motion to decertify the class and ruled that “the class should be maintained for the purposes of trial to determine damages for loss of liberty.”

In denying the Defendants’ decertification motion, the Court held that Plaintiffs’ lost liberty “is inherent in any unlawful detention and is compensable as general damages” and “can be determined on a class-wide basis.” The Court further determined that these common injuries “predominate over other, individualized issues” and can therefore be determined on a class basis at trial.

ECBAWM attorneys Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Nick Bourland, and Max Selver, and law clerk Julian Oppenheimer represent the Betances Plaintiff class.

Article

ECBAWM’s Fight to Challenge Client’s Conviction Featured in the New York Times

As detailed in the New York Times article “A Murder, Gold Bars, a Jailbreak and Questions About Justice,” ECBAWM represents Brian Scott Lorenz, who was convicted and incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. Along with co-defendant James Pugh, Mr. Lorenz was given a life sentence for the 1993 murder of Deborah Meindl, a nursing student and young mother from Tonawanda, New York.

Since Mr. Lorenz’s 1994 conviction, facts have surfaced that call Mr. Lorenz’s conviction into serious question, including DNA tests that exclude Mr. Lorenz and Mr. Pugh from the crime scene, witnesses whose testimony was fabricated or coerced, and evidence pointing to other possible murderers. A recent report by two prosecutors from the Erie County District Attorney’s Office exonerates Mr. Lorenz.

Our representation of Mr. Lorenz began almost seven years ago. On Monday, December 13, we will appear in court on behalf of Mr. Lorenz in a hearing to challenge his conviction. We are hopeful that in light of the overwhelming new evidence, Mr. Lorenz will be released and his and Mr. Pugh’s convictions will be overturned.

Mr. Lorenz is represented by ECBAWM lawyers Ilann M. Maazel, Emma Freeman, and Francesca Cocuzza.

Press
“Former county prosecutor testifies against his former office: The Erie County District Attorney’s Office,” WGRZ
“Clinton Correctional escapee David Sweat testifies in hearing focused on 1993 Tonawanda murder case,” WGRZ
“Expert testifies defendants’ DNA not found at scene of Deborah Meindl’s murder,” WIVB
“Two men attempt to have 1993 Tonawanda murder convictions thrown out,” WIVB
“Dannemora escapee David Sweat testifies against fellow escapee in 1993 murder case,” WIVB
“David Sweat testifies Richard Matt told him he killed Tonawanda woman in ’93,” Buffalo News

Article

ECBAWM Joins Anthony Sims Legal Team

ECBAWM is proud to join the legal team of Anthony Sims, a man who has served 23 years after being wrongfully convicted of the 1998 murder of Li Run Chen.

Mr. Chen was killed by a single shotgun blast while working at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. Undisputed evidence pointed to a different perpetrator altogether. In addition, for decades, law enforcement withheld substantial Brady material and evidence of Anthony’s innocence. As a result, Anthony filed a motion to vacate his conviction and to dismiss all charges against him. The District Attorney’s Office has not joined the motion and a hearing is scheduled to begin on October 14.

ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. MaazelSam Shapiro, and Nairuby Beckles, along with attorneys Thomas Hoffman and Jonathan Hiles, represent Anthony Sims. More information about the case is available on the Free Anthony Sims website.

Article

ECBAWM Represents Family in their Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Federal Correctional Officers Who Took Jamel Floyd’s Life

On June 3, 2020, Jamel Floyd died at the hands of federal correctional officers at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (“BOP”) troubled Brooklyn jail facility, the Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC Brooklyn”). On behalf of Mr. Floyd’s mother, Donna Mays, and Mr. Floyd’s extended family, Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the United States and the BOP correctional officers who caused Mr. Floyd’s tragic, untimely death.

Mr. Floyd was housed in solitary confinement at the MDC Brooklyn last June when he began to experience a medical or mental health crisis. Instead of using non-violent measures to assist Mr. Floyd, dozens of BOP correctional officers descended on Mr. Floyd’s cell armed with riot shields and pepper spray. After Mr. Floyd followed the correctional officers’ orders, the officers repeatedly doused Mr. Floyd with pepper spray while he was locked alone in his cell, causing him to immediately collapse and go into cardiac arrest.

When BOP correctional officers opened the cell door, they found Mr. Floyd on the ground, unresponsive and with his heart failing. Not a single BOP correctional officer or staff member attempted to help Mr. Floyd, even though a health technician was present in the unit and every correctional officer on the scene was trained in CPR. Rather, the officers tackled Mr. Floyd and kept him pinned to the ground for several minutes. Even after an officer announced that he could not find Mr. Floyd’s pulse, the officers kept him pinned and then dragged him out of his cell. Finally, the officers strapped Mr. Floyd’s incapacitated body to a restraint chair—a device designed to restrain violent, out-of-control individuals. Mr. Floyd never recovered. He was pronounced dead upon his arrival at a nearby hospital.

Over the past year, Mr. Floyd’s family has joined Brooklyn community organizers and activists in holding demonstrations and vigils outside of the Brooklyn MDC, where they have demanded transparency, accountability, and justice for Mr. Floyd’s death. In response, the BOP has ignored Mr. Floyd’s family and refused to provide them access to his prison medical and administrative records—files the agency later turned over to Mr. Floyd’s family only after ECBAWM filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in federal court in November 2020.

“Jamel Floyd’s death was not an accident, it was the direct result of a group of correctional officers’ decision to respond to Jamel’s distress with brutal force, and then stand idly by while Jamel lay dying,” said Nick Bourland, an ECBAWM attorney representing the plaintiff. “Law enforcement officers—whether they patrol our neighborhoods or the halls of a federal jail facility—must be held accountable for their actions.”

Mr. Floyd’s family, including the plaintiff in this suit, his mother, Donna Mays, are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Katherine Rosenfeld and Nick Bourland.

Press
“Family of inmate who died after being pepper sprayed in Brooklyn federal prison sues,” CNN
“Family of MDC inmate claims jail guards did nothing as he ‘slowly died,’” New York Post
“Family of man who died at Brooklyn jail in June 2020 sues federal lockup,” New York Daily News
“Metropolitan Detention Center corrections officers ignored Hempstead man’s pleas for help, suit alleges,” Newsday (Long Island)
“After His 2020 Death in a New York Jail Cell, Jamel Floyd’s Family File Lawsuit Against Bureau of Prisons,” Time

Article

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

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.

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

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.

.