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Two Child Sexual Abuse Cases Filed Against Cold Spring Harbor High School

Cold Spring Harbor High School Class of 1982 graduates Lynda Cutbill and Susan Rule Sandler (formerly Susan Shanahan) filed complaints in the Islip federal courthouse today seeking to hold the Cold Spring Harbor School District and Board of Education accountable for enabling and emboldening the horrific and violent sexual abuse perpetrated against them by two teachers, whom the school knew to be dangerous predators of children.

According to the complaints, the District knew that Thomas Kohm, a venerated science teacher known for his Ivy League college connections, and art teacher William Kail, a talented artist in his own right who boasted about his connections in the art community and with art schools, had engaged in unchecked, predatory behavior toward its girl students for many years. Instead of firing these dangerous men or reporting their child sexual abuse crimes to the police, the District covered up the abuse.

Between 1978 and 1980, Thomas Kohm groomed, then horrifically and methodically abused, 14-year-old Susan Shanahan during her freshman and sophomore years. Kohm’s abuse included violently raping her during a school event—a 1980 Cotton Bowl Parade float competition in Dallas. Many of Kohm’s near-daily attacks occurred during the school day in a science classroom storage area.

In March of 1980, Susan reported the abuse to the District’s most powerful officials and warned them that she believed Kohm was also abusing his own children. The District made the cynical tactical decision not to report Kohm’s crimes to the police. It permitted Kohm to quietly resign. The District continued to grant Kohm access to the School after his resignation, enabling Kohm to relentlessly retaliate against Susan until her 1982 graduation. In 2003, Wade County in North Carolina convicted Kohm of the crime of indecent liberties with a child—he had sexually abused his granddaughters. He became a registered sex offender.

“I am coming forward today, not just for me, and not just for Mr. Kohm’s other victims, but also for the countless others who, like me, struggle throughout their lives to survive both the torture of being sexually abused and the paralyzing fear that asking for help, even from the adults that were charged with protecting children, would be futile and would instead be met with hostility and demeaning retaliation,” said Susan Rule Sandler. “For decades, the School District has kept what Mr. Kohm did to me in the back of my science classroom and in Dallas, along with the cruelty of how they treated me after his abuse came to light, a secret. No more. Filing this lawsuit is the next necessary step in the fight for accountability and justice.”

From 1979 through 1982, art teacher William Kail sexually abused Lynda Cutbill from the time she was in middle school until she graduated from high school. Kail used Lynda’s passion for art and ambition to be an artist to gain sexual access to her. Kail sexually abused her hundreds of times during the school day in his office and in an art storage area. The Complaint details that school administrators had been specifically told that Kail was abusing another high school girl. Instead of firing Kail, the District continued to grant him unsupervised access to the secluded areas within the school which he continued to use to abuse Lynda. The District chose silence over reporting Kail’s criminal behavior to the police or protecting Lynda.

“On an almost daily basis beginning in middle school and lasting through high school graduation, my art teacher, Mr. Kail, sexually abused me hundreds of times during my school day,” said Lynda Cutbill. “Mr. Kail weaponized my passion for art and talent as an artist by demanding that I submit to his relentless sexual assaults as a condition of him mentoring me to success as a college art student and career as an artist. Mr. Kail chose to make me his victim because he knew that my home life was tumultuous and that school officials, who had received prior reports that he sexually abused another student, would callously turn a blind eye to obvious sexual abuse danger signs. I am coming forward today because no child should ever have to endure what I did and no institution, no matter how powerful, should be permitted to benefit from their complicit silence by escaping justice.”

“I applaud Lynda and Susan for having the courage to come forward and demand accountability and justice,” said ECBAWM partner Debbie Greenberger, who, along with Pennsylvania attorney Andrew Shubin, represents the plaintiffs. “We know that they are not Kohm or Kail’s only victims. I shudder to think about how many other victims there are who have stayed silent for years, believing they were the only girl these trusted teachers abused. We encourage witnesses to contact us.”

Greenberger and Shubin credit the 2018 New York Child Victims Act, which reformed the statute of limitations to provide child sexual abuse survivors like Lynda and Susan with a window (which expires on August 14, 2021) to file civil claims and demand accountability. “All child sexual abuse victims should have access to justice,” said Greenberger, “no matter their age.”

Press
“2 women who say they were sexually abused as students at Cold Spring Harbor HS file lawsuit,” Long Island News 12 (video)

Article

ECBAWM Partner Zoe Salzman Featured in Daily Beast Coverage of Trump Rape Defamation Case

As reported in The Daily Beast, the U.S. Department of Justice made clear on Monday that they intend to continue their defense of former president Donald Trump in the defamation lawsuit filed by E. Jean Carroll. On behalf of the behalf of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and other advocacy groups, ECBAWM previously filed an amicus brief in support of E. Jean Carroll and in opposition to the DOJ’s position that Trump is immune from suit for defamation because he was a government employee when he called Carroll a liar and said she was “not my type” after Caroll came forward to say that Trump had raped her years before he was a government employee.

The brief filed by the DOJ claims that Trump is entitled to both immunity and government-funded legal representation because he was a government employee at the time he made the statements – even though Carroll is suing Trump in his personal capacity and not in his official role as a government employee.

“It is disappointing to see this administration continue to defend Trump’s bankrupt legal position,” said ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman, who, along with law clerk Julian S. Oppenheimer, represents the amici. “To agree with DOJ in this case is to send a chilling message to survivors of sexual assault and discourage them from holding their assailants accountable. The Second Circuit should affirm the District Court’s well-reasoned decision.”

Related Press
“Biden’s Department of Justice Is Still Taking Trump’s Side in E. Jean Carroll Case,” Jezebel

Article

ECBAWM Files Excessive Force Lawsuit on Behalf of Man Paralyzed by NYPD Officers

On June 2, 2021, ECBAWM filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Peyman Bahadoran, a former Wall Street trader who is now paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by NYPD officers during a non-violent confrontation. As detailed in the complaint, Mr. Bahadoran—who suffers from bipolar disorder—experienced a manic episode on June 4, 2020 outside a Manhattan deli after days of seeing violence between police and Black Lives Matter protesters outside his home near Union Square. NYPD officers on the scene did not even attempt to use non-lethal techniques to subdue Mr. Bahadoran. Instead, two NYPD officers shot Mr. Bahadoran in the spine and left arm. He was unarmed and non-violent at the time the officers shot him. He is now paralyzed and unable to control any body function below his waist.

Security and body camera footage of the shooting have been widely circulated in the news media and confirm that the officers’ force was excessive. “The body camera footage shows clearly that Mr. Bahadoran was unarmed when shot,” said Mr. Bahadoran’s lawyer Earl Ward. “It further disproves the claim by the department that he was ‘reaching’ and ‘lunging.’ He posed no deadly risk and now there’s a bullet lodged in his spine and he may never walk again.”

ECBAWM’s Earl Ward, Jonathan Abady, and Marissa Benavides represent Mr. Bahadoran in the suit.

Read the filed complaint

Article

ECBAWM Counsel Diane Houk Negotiates Settlement of Race Discrimination Case Filed Against White Suburban Community

On June 1, 2021, a federal judge approved a settlement agreement between ECBAWM client the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and the Town of Eastchester, New York resolving a five-year lawsuit. The agreement obligates the Town to amend its zoning code to remove residency preferences for affordable senior housing and not to use similar preferences in any future housing programs it may operate for 30 years. The Town, whose senior population is 95% white, will remove obligations it had originally imposed on a mixed-income senior rental building in Eastchester to apply preferences for current Town residents.

FHJC alleged in its lawsuit that the preferences discriminate against senior Black and Latinx nonresidents in a County where the income-eligible senior population is 66% white. FHJC also alleged that the Town’s use of a similar residency preference in its housing rental voucher program caused Black and Latinx applicants, who were more likely to be nonresidents, to wait an average of 10-15 years for a voucher. At the same time, white applicants waited only 8 months to a year to receive a rental voucher. FHJC found that even though 75% of the Town’s voucher waiting list was Black or Latinx, 73% of those who received vouchers were white.

After ECBAWM filed the lawsuit, the Town abruptly closed its rental voucher program in early 2019 rather than bring it into compliance with fair housing laws. ECBAWM attorneys successfully advocated to the State of New York and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to transfer the program to the State, eliminate all residency preferences, and reorder the Town’s waiting list based on the date of application and not residency.

Later that same year, when ECBAWM learned that the Town told the developer of a new senior rental building they were required to agree to a restrictive covenant mandating residency preferences, ECBAWM attorneys filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Town. The motion was resolved when the Town agreed the developer could begin initial rent-up without applying residency preferences.

After federal District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti rejected the Town’s efforts to dismiss the case by summary judgment in September 2020, the parties negotiated a resolution that includes $635,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees.

FHJC was represented by ECBAWM Counsel Diane L. Houk. For more information about the settlement and case see FHJC’s June 1, 2021 newsletter.

PRESS

“Eastchester pays $635,000 to settle federal housing bias case,” The Press Journal / lohud.com

“Discrimination suit prompts Eastchester to change Section 8 housing policy,” The Real Deal

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

USA TODAY Publishes Selective Service Reform Article by ECBAWM Partner Ilann Maazel

In his latest column for USA TODAY, “Men-only military draft is a vestige of anti-women bias. Supreme Court should strike it down,” ECBAWM partner and civil rights attorney Ilann Maazel explores the United States’ current Selective Service law and the reasons it needs to change.

“The Military Selective Service Act discriminates against men, by imposing obligations, burdens and penalties that only men face,” writes Maazel. “The law discriminates against women by treating them as less than full citizens, conveying that women are less willing and able to defend the country, and perpetuating paternalistic stereotypes that, as Justice William Brennan once put it, ‘put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage.’”

Maazel also notes that the law undermines military preparedness by depriving the military of “half the talent and ability of the population.” “[W]e cannot achieve equality while federal law makes men soldiers and women partial citizens.”

Article

ECBAWM Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Ocoee and Windermere (FL) Police

Jean Samuel Celestin died unnecessarily at the hands of Florida police officers on April 11, 2019. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Ocoee (FL), the town of Windermere (FL), four Ocoee Police Department (“OPD”) officers, and one Windermere Police Department (“WPD”) officer, on behalf of Mr. Celestin’s family. The suit, filed along with co-counsel King & Markman, P.A., alleges that Mr. Celestin was deprived of his constitutional rights when the officers physically restrained to him to the point that he lost consciousness and died. Mr. Celestin’s family seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

On April 11, 2019, Mr. Celestin’s mother and sister called 911 to ask for assistance because Mr. Celestin was in a mental health crisis and was expressing delusional thoughts. The road patrol officers, violating standard procedures for interacting with people in distress, treated Mr. Celestin as a dangerous criminal, rather than a mental health patient in need of emergency treatment. Though Crisis Intervention Teams have existed in Ocoee for over 20 years, in order to reduce the risk of serious injury or death during an emergency interaction between persons with mental illness and police officers, the responding officers failed to engage such a team.

The officers also refused to handcuff Mr. Celestin when he offered his wrists in surrender, and tased him multiple times. They also restrained him with a controversial “hobble” restraint, also known as a “hogtie,” which has been known to cause death by positional asphyxia since at least 1995. OPD and WPD officers left Mr. Celestin hogtied and face-down in the grass for almost an entire minute. The coroner’s report indicates that this hogtie was a proximate cause of Mr. Celestin’s death.

“Samuel Celestin is no longer with us for one reason and one reason only: because police officers treated a sick person in need of help like a dangerous criminal who had just committed a violent felony,” said Andrew G. Celli, Jr., an ECBAWM attorney representing the plaintiff. “The failings that killed Samuel are systemic; they reflect inadequate training and the misuse of equipment; extremely poor tactical conduct by the officers—including intentional escalation of a conflict when de-escalation was called for; and an utter failure to assist a person in distress. This case will expose all of that and more.”

Along with Mr. Celli, the Celestin family is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan Abady, Earl Ward, and Andrew Jondahl, along with Jeremy Markman from King & Markman, P.A. in Orlando, FL. For additional information, see this press release and the complaint.

Press
“Family of man who died after being tased by Ocoee police discusses newly filed lawsuit,” WFTV
“Family suing Ocoee police after deadly encounter,” Fox 35 Orlando
“Police who tased Ocoee man during mental health crisis should face charges in his death, family says,” Orlando Sentinel

 

Article

ECBAWM Files Police Brutality Lawsuit Against NYPD Officers and the City of New York

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a complaint in the Eastern District of New York against the City of New York and New York Police Department Officers for excessive force. The complaint alleges that plaintiff Ernesto Lopez, a respiratory therapist who was working temporarily in New York City helping COVID-19 patients amid the height of the pandemic, was violently assaulted by several NYPD officers while he was peacefully protesting racial injustice and police brutality in Brooklyn on June 3, 2020.

The complaint further alleges that during the protest, unprovoked and without warning, NYPD officers violently assaulted and indiscriminately arrested several protestors, including Mr. Lopez. Though Mr. Lopez did not pose any threat to the officers, they arrested him, struck his head with a baton, and tackled him to the ground.

Police then forcefully restrained Mr. Lopez’s hands, typing zip ties so tight that he lost feeling in his fingers. He spent the next six hours in NYPD detention, where his repeated requests for medical treatment for his head injuries were denied. Additionally, Mr. Lopez’s face mask fell off during the assault and while he was detained, police refused his request to replace his mask despite the risk of COVID-19.

“This is an egregious incident of excessive force and violence committed by the NYPD against a peaceful protestor. It is even more shocking that this assault was carried out against a medical worker who had traveled to New York to help the city and its residents during a time of dire need,” said ECBAWM partner Ilann M. Maazel. “We are confident that these officers will be held accountable for the indiscriminate and unjustified violence committed against Mr. Lopez.”

“This case has key implications for the broader issue of unwarranted violence and excessive force used by the police against civilians exercising their right to peacefully protest,” added ECBAWM attorney Scout Katovich. “We are committed to seeking justice for Mr. Lopez.”

“Though I traveled to New York with the intent to help the sickest New Yorkers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, my experience unfortunately resulted in a shocking incident of violence at the hands of those sworn to protect the city and its residents,” said Mr. Lopez. “I’m optimistic that the resolution of this suit will bring justice and peace for myself, as well as for others who have been similarly brutalized by the police.”

Mr. Lopez is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. Maazel and Scout Katovich.

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 Attorneys Reach Settlement in Disability Discrimination Lawsuit Brought Against Developer, Architect, and Interior Designer

ECBAWM attorneys Diane L. Houk and Nick Bourland negotiated a settlement agreement for their client the Fair Housing Justice Center (“FHJC”) to resolve a housing discrimination lawsuit brought against a developer, architect, and interior designer for their alleged failure to design and construct four multifamily apartment buildings in New York City in compliance with accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Rabsky Group defendants will retrofit common areas and nearly 500 rental units at the Halo LIC development in Long Island City, Queens, and The Driggs development in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In addition, the Rabsky Group will build at least 85 new ultra-accessible apartments in accordance with the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (“UFAS”) and in addition to any UFAS units the developer is already required to build under federal, state, or local law.  This unique provision guarantees enhanced accessibility at future Rabsky Group developments in New York City.

The settlement also includes $950,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to FHJC, including $300,000 to the Adele Friedman Housing Accessibility Fund, which provides financial assistance to low and moderate income persons with disabilities seeking to modify their homes to increase physical accessibility.

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