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ECBAWM Secures Landmark Settlement Between Voting Rights Advocates and Private Security Company Charged with Voter Intimidation

A federal judge has approved a sweeping settlement in a lawsuit brought by voting rights advocates against a private security contractor, Atlas Aegis, for illegal voter intimidation in Minnesota. ECBAWM’s clients, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota (LWV-MN), celebrated the settlement as a major victory for democracy.

U.S. District Court Judge Nancy E. Brasel approved a consent decree that resolves all remaining claims in the lawsuit. Under the consent decree, which lasts until January 1, 2025, Atlas Aegis and its Chairman and co-founder Anthony Caudle are:

  • Prohibited from deploying armed agents within 250 feet of (or otherwise monitoring) any early voting location during early voting, a polling place on election day, places where ballots are being counted, recounted, or canvassed; or where county canvassing boards or the State Canvassing Board are meeting to canvass, inspect, or declare the results of that election; or where Minnesota’s presidential electors are meeting to vote in the presidential general election.
  • Prohibited from otherwise taking any action to intimidate, threaten, or coerce voters, people aiding voters, or people engaged in tabulating, counting, or reporting votes.
  • Required to notify CAIR-MN and LWV-MN in writing 25 days before any federal election if they are supplying security personnel for any non-election-related protective services (e.g., providing security for an art exhibition or concert) where armed security personnel may be visible to the public within 250 feet of a polling place on election day.

Any violations of the consent decree will be enforceable as contempt of court.

The consent decree approved by the federal court requires the plaintiffs to state as follows:

“This matter has been resolved by agreement. The parties have agreed that Defendants shall be restricted in their actions as set forth in the terms of the attached Consent Decree. Defendants have not admitted any liability and specifically deny they have committed any statutory violation.”

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan Abady, Matthew Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Debra Greenberger, and Vivake Prasad, as well as Free Speech For People and Lathrop GPM LLP.

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Court Certifies Class in ECBAWM, STOP Religious Headcovering Lawsuit

On February 16, 2020, federal judge Analisa Torres of the United States District Court granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification on behalf of all New Yorkers forced to remove their religious head coverings for photographs while in NYPD custody. ECBAWM filed the case for the Plaintiffs, together with the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (“STOP”). The decision means that Plaintiffs’ case for damages will proceed as a class action and that, if found liable, the City must pay damages to each and every individual whose religious rights were violated under the NYPD policy.

“Every New Yorker whose religious head covering was forcibly removed by the NYPD in violation of their religious rights should be entitled to compensation. This decision gives us a mechanism to make that happen,” said O. Andrew F. Wilson, a partner at ECBAWM.

This ruling followed Judge Torres’s September 30, 2020 rejection of the City of New York’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ claims under the Federal Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), both of which protect the rights of all New Yorkers to express their beliefs through religious clothing.

Judge Torres wrote: “The Policy compels all individuals to remove religious headwear when sitting for a booking photograph…As a result, every member of the class will have the same claim because each member objects, due to their sincerely-held religious beliefs, to some or all of the activity the policy compels.”

Emma L. Freeman, an attorney at ECBAWM, said: “The Court’s ruling confirms that all New Yorkers—no matter what their religious practices—deserve compensation for being forced to take an uncovered mug shot.”

“This lawsuit already blocked the NYPD from removing New Yorkers’ head coverings in the future, but today’s decision brings us one step closer to justice for New Yorkers who were harmed in the past,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Far too many New Yorkers have already been targeted, humiliated, and stripped for their religious head coverings. These New Yorkers deserve justice for what they’ve suffered, and it’s long past time for the City to pay.”

Plaintiffs’ class action Complaint is available here. The Court’s Decision and Order certifying the class is available here.

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Emma L. Freeman, as well as S.T.O.P.’s Albert Fox Cahn.

If you or anyone you know has been forced to remove a religious head covering while in NYPD custody, please contact ECBAWM through its website.

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ECBAWM Partner Ilann Maazel Featured on “Finding Humanity” Podcast Episode About Cyberbullying

ECBAWM partner and civil rights attorney Ilann Maazel was featured on the latest episode of Finding Humanity, a podcast produced by the Humanity Lab Foundation and Hueman Group Media that provides in-depth coverage of complex social and political issues.

In “How a Bullying Survivor Found His Voice: Brandon Farbstein,” Ilann explains how a court would evaluate claims that a school was liable for the bullying or harassment of a student. “Is it severe and pervasive? Did the school have notice? And was the school ‘deliberately indifferent’ in its response, meaning was their response so weak that it allowed the harassment or bullying to continue? And when those things are all true, the school is itself liable for the bullying.”

Though most schools have adopted measures to curtail “in person” bullying, cyberbullying presents additional challenges. “There are two aspects of online bullying that make it very difficult to tackle,” says Ilann. “The first is that it often is anonymous, and it can be very difficult for a school to root out the culprit or the culprits and take action. The second issue is that by its nature, it is pervasive. An anonymous post can be shared with hundreds or thousands of people and that can create a horrible effect that’s much worse than just one or two kids in school. Now, you go to school and (a) have no idea who’s been bullying you, and (b) for all you know, every single person in that hallway or classroom has been sharing that post, and that just makes it devastating.”

Despite these challenges, Ilann says he still feels there is reason for some optimism. “I see hope because judges have kids. Jurors have kids. Our legal system understands that something needs to be done and our legal system is slowly addressing the challenge.”

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ECABWM Partner Zoe Salzman Co-Authors Washington Post Op-Ed Calling for Justice for Tamir Rice Under Biden Administration

Today the Washington Post published an opinion piece co-authored by ECBAWM partner Zoe Salzman and Billy Joe Mills, founding partner of FirmEquity LLC. Both firms represent the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was brutally shot and killed by Cleveland police officers in 2014. In “Tamir Rice deserves justice. The Biden administration could finally deliver it,” Salzman and Mills explain why one of the top priorities for the Justice Department under the Biden administration should be the reopening of the case against the police officers who are responsible for Tamir’s death.

Noting that career DOJ attorneys had twice sought to convene a federal grand jury to bring charges against Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, the authors write, “[B]oth times those requests were stymied by Trump administration political appointees at the Justice Department. They sat on the requests for years, though the department typically rubber-stamps such requests in weeks. … [T]hey opted to run out the clock on the relevant statutes of limitations, which allowed them to silently kill the investigation without formally ending it.” After a whistleblower complaint that included these and other stalling tactics by the Justice Department, the investigation was formally closed without further explanation.

“The Justice Department is supposed to uphold the rule of law without yielding to the bruising tide of politics,” write Salzman and Mills. “We call on the Biden administration’s incoming attorney general, Merrick Garland, who has professed his commitment to the rule of law, to reopen the investigation into the killing of Tamir Rice.”

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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)

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ECBAWM Clients Sue State College, PA Police for Fatal Shooting

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Osaze Osagie’s family against the Borough of State College as well as ten State College Police Department (“SCPD”) officers. The complaint addresses the systemic failures that resulted in a State College police officer fatally shooting 29-year-old Osaze Osagie, who was suffering a mental health crisis at the time, on March 20, 2019.

Osaze Osagie’s family hopes to expose the policies and practices that allowed for such an injustice to occur. In a statement released by their legal team, they elaborate, “The Osagie family files this case today with deep resolve, but also with a heavy heart. They are determined to seek justice for their beloved son, which includes holding the Borough and SCPD accountable for their systemic failings in creating and maintaining a broken policing system that caused his untimely death.” The family also seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Earl S. Ward, and David Berman represent the plaintiffs, alongside The Law Office of Andrew Shubin and Kathleen Yurchak from Steinbacher, Goodall, and Yurchak.

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ECBAWM Obtains Settlement Forcing NYPD to End Discriminatory “Hijab Removal” Policy

The NYPD has agreed to end its discriminatory “hijab removal” policy, which forced suspects to remove hijabs and other religious attire for mug shots. Pursuant to a partial settlement obtained by ECBAWM and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.), the NYPD will have only limited law enforcement exceptions to remove religious head coverings.

“The policy changes we have obtained are a blueprint for the nation’s police departments,” said ECBAWM partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “Law enforcement interests can be served without violating religious freedom. This settlement protects both.”

“This settlement reflects New York City’s renewed commitment to the free exercise rights of all its residents,” said ECBAWM attorney Emma Freeman. “As the NYPD’s new policies recognize, there is no need to strip away religious head coverings at the precinct door.”

ECBAWM and S.T.O.P. will continue to seek damages from the NYPD for individuals who were previously forced to remove their religious head coverings as part of the intake process.

Mr. Wilson and Ms. Freeman are joined by ECBAWM partner Matthew D. Brinckerhoff in representing the plaintiffs.

ECBAWM has filed a similar lawsuit against the Yonkers Police Department for forcing individuals to remove religious head coverings for mug shots and while in custody. That case is also pending.

Related Press
“N.Y.P.D. Will No Longer Force Women to Remove Hijabs for Mug Shots,” New York Times (11.13.20)
“NYPD will now allow people to wear religious head coverings in booking photos,” CNN (11.11.20)
“NYPD Will Allow Defendants To Keep Religious Headgear On For Mug Shots,” Gothamist (11.10.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (11.10.20)
“NYPD can no longer force Muslim women to remove hijabs in mug shots, settlement says,” USA Today (11.10.20)
“NYPD will now allow religious people to wear head coverings in booking photos,” KCTV5 (11.10.20)
“New York police to stop forcing Muslim women to remove hijab during arrest,” Middle East Eye (11.10.20)
“NYC settles lawsuit over forced removal of head coverings when religiously observant person is under arrest,” New York Daily News (11.9.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” ABC News (11.9.20)
“NYPD Will Allow Those Arrested to Wear Religious Headware for Mug Shots,” 4New York NBC News (11.9.20)
“NYPD to allow religious headgear in mug shots after lawsuit,” Associated Press (11.9.20)

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ECBAWM Files Set of Election Cases to Protect Voting Rights

Over the past week, ECBAWM has filed three federal lawsuits to protect voting rights for the November 3 election.

In Council on Islamic Relations-Minnesota and League of Women Voters of Minnesota v. Atlas Aegis LLC, et al., we filed a lawsuit against a private security contractor for voter intimidation in Minnesota. On Thursday, October 29, a federal court enjoined the contractor from coming within 2,500 feet of Minnesota polling sites and from intimidating Minnesota voters.

In Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, et al. v. Donald J. Trump, et al., we filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the defendants, including President Donald J. Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolfe from continuing to intimidate voters.

Press
“’Threats Terrifyingly Credible’: Trump Administration Sued for Alleged ‘Violent’ Voter Intimidation” (Newsweek)
“Voting rights group files suit against Trump, administration officials alleging voter intimidation” (The Hill)
“Trump Sued Over Alleged Voter Intimidation By Rights Group” (Forbes)
“Calling Trump a ‘Clear Threat to Our Democracy,’ Civil Rights Group Sues Admin. Over Voter Intimidation” (Common Dreams)
“Civil rights group sues Trump administration over voter intimidation: A ‘clear threat to our democracy’” (AlterNet)
“Mi Familia Vota sues Trump admin, alleging election sabatoge” (The Tucson Sentinel)
“Mi Familia Vota Sues Trump Citing Pattern Of “Violently Suppressing Opposition, Sabotaging A Free And Fair Election” (Latin Life Denver)
“Group Says Trump Must Be Stopped From Sowing Election Day Chaos” (Courthouse News Service)

In Mi Familia Vota, Texas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, et al. v. Greg Abbott and Ruth Hughs, we filed an emergency motion to excise Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s “voting” exemption from the statewide mask mandate. Our motion that would require voters and poll workers in Texas to wear masks during early voting and on Election Day was granted.

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