The 42nd Annual Servant of Justice Awards

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On Thursday May 9th, The Legal Aid Society celebrated our 42nd Annual Servant of Justice Awards Dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street. This annual celebration was attended by over 700 guests, with significant representation from the New York business and legal communities.

This year, we were proud to present the Servant of Justice Award to Jeffrey L. Kessler, Executive Co-Chairman of Winston & Strawn LLP, and Michele A. Roberts, Executive Director of the National Basketball Players Association, for their lasting impact on our city’s legal community.

The theme for this year’s dinner was  Community | Leadership | Impact, exemplifying what we hope to achieve through our work: the creation of new leaders from within the communities of New York City, while positively impacting individuals and families across the five boroughs.

Brian Vines – host of BRIC TV’s Going In with Brian Vines – served as the emcee for the evening. Some highlights from the night included an art auction showcasing artwork from Project Attica, and a paddle raise live auction headed by Adriene Holder, Tina Luongo and Dawne Mitchell, the heads of The Legal Aid Society’s three legal practices.

All proceeds from the event benefit The Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice, which serves vulnerable New Yorkers with a wide range of legal issues, from housing and immigration, to health benefits and employment.

Report: New Yorkers Who Make Bail Still Suffer Wrongful Incarceration Due To NYC Dept. Of Correction Neglect

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The Bronx Freedom Fund (BFF) and The Legal Aid Society (LAS) released a report today on the New York City Department of Correction’s (DOC) continued failure to comply with recently enacted bail reforms, specifically Int. No. 1531A – legislation which mandates the Department to release individuals from custody who make bail within three hours or less."

Since the law's passage, fewer than a quarter of the Freedom Fund's clients have been released in compliance with the law. A recent audit of BFF and LAS client release times in the Bronx and Queens for April 2019 revealed a mean wait time after posting bail of 6 hours and 52 minutes, and a median of 5 hours and 11 minutes – which still does not comply with the times set forth by the new laws. Of the 27 clients bailed out from jail facilities, only two were released within the requisite three-hour window.

Of the 25 clients released more than three hours after bail was posted, nine were released after a period of more than seven hours; three were released more than ten hours after bail was posted; one person was detained for more than 17 hours after bail was posted; and five were jailed overnight, despite having posted bail during business hours of the previous day.

One of these clients was released at one o’clock in the morning into freezing temperatures, nine hours after he had posted bail the prior afternoon. He had recently obtained stable employment and was living in a shelter; he was unable to check in with either his shelter or his employer. This delayed release of just one night in jail thus resulted in him losing both his job and his shelter bed. While his release was being processed, he spent hours in a crowded intake cell with no access to food or water. “They treat us like dogs,” he said. “Just let us go.”

Based on Legal Aid Society data, hundreds of legally innocent New Yorkers are subjected to these illegal delays each week.

BFF and LAS first publically raised this issue last November, an Act which prompted a City Council hearing on DOC’s compliance with the reforms. The City Council’s Oversight and Investigations Unit also released a scathing report last month on the DOC’s failure to implement the new measures.

BFF and LAS will continue to issue these reports on a monthly basis until the Department comes in full compliance with the new laws, which were meant to modernize New York City’s antiquated and broken bail system.

“It's been 7 months since this law was supposed to be fully implemented and almost two years since its passage. It is inexcusable that the Department of Correction has yet to comply. As a result, every week, hundreds of low-income New Yorkers remain incarcerated for hours beyond the legal limit even after their bail has already been posted. We call on Mayor de Blasio to treat this issue with the urgency it deserves,” said Elena Weissmann from The Bronx Freedom Fund.

“DOC is not above the law, and our clients continue to suffer wrongful incarceration at Rikers Island and other facilities – some of the most dangerous jails in the country – because of the Department’s bureaucratic bumbling,” said Elizabeth Bender, Staff Attorney with the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. “If Mayor Bill de Blasio is serious about fast-tracking the closure of Rikers Island, this starts with reducing the jail’s pretrial detention population. We need City Hall to better focus on DOC’s compliance with these crucial reforms.”

Statement On Proposed HUD Rule To Restrict Access To Immigrants In Public Housing

Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, issued the following statement today responding to the publishing of a new U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed rule to restrict access to public housing for undocumented immigrants and their families:

“Many of our clients, including those in low-income, mixed immigration status families, depend on public housing, Section 8 programs, and other Federally-funded housing programs. This cruel and inhumane rule will put entire families, including US citizen children, out on the street, and will exacerbate the housing and homelessness crisis in New York and across the country.

HUD’s purported concern for reducing housing waiting lists – the Agency’s basis for this new proposal – is really a thinly-veiled attempt to further marginalize non-citizens, break-up families, and advance the Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.

We will continue to fight for our clients and all vulnerable immigrants to help ensure that no one is stripped of their fundamental right to housing."

Legal Aid Testifies on Rent Regulations Before NY Assembly Housing Committee

Ellen Davidson, Staff Attorney in the Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, testified before the New York Assembly Housing Committee Hearing on Rent Regulations.      

    "This combination of market forces and governmental decisions has worked together to have a devastating effect on low and moderate income New Yorkers," she said. "The declining number of vacant units available for rent, the fact that housing expansion has not kept pace with population growth, and the ongoing public housing crisis have all contributed to the scarcity of available affordable housing."

Statement on Rent Guidelines Board’s Preliminary Vote to Raise Rents on Low-income Tenants

Adriene Holder, Attorney-In-Charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society and former tenant member of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, released the following statement tonight responding to the Rent Guidelines Board preliminary vote:

"While we are in the midst of an affordable housing shortage and burgeoning homelessness crisis, it is mystifying that the Board voted to raise rents on the poorest residents for a third consecutive year. We cannot find any justification for this increase, especially in light of the Board’s own data showing that landlords’ profits have increased every year for 13 years in a row, while tenants continue to struggle each month towards paying their rents.

The Rent Guidelines Board’s stated goal is to protect ‘public health, safety, and welfare…and to prevent exactions of unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive rents and rental agreements.’ Yet, public health, safety and welfare are put in jeopardy when rents on some of our city’s most vulnerable continues to rise year after year.

We hope that the Board hears from the many New Yorkers who are facing homelessness and votes for a rent freeze, or at the very least, the smallest allowable increase come June.”

NYS Appellate Court Rules Against City Practice of Issuing Arrest Warrants for Children in Foster Care Who Temporarily Leave Their Placement

The Legal Aid Society hailed a decision rendered today in the New York State Appellate Division, First Department against the City’s practice of issuing arrest warrants for children in foster care.

For decades, the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS) would request arrest warrants from New York State Family Court for children in foster care who left their placement without permission despite the fact that this does not break any law. In 2015, ACS even admitted that the practice can have “negative unintended consequences,” but the agency refused to scale it back.

The Legal Aid Society filed a challenge to this practice in 2018 and the New York State Family Court’s authority to issue arrest warrants for the explicit purpose of returning youth to foster care.

“This long running and unlawful practice that criminalized our young clients and others in foster care is finally no more,” said Dawne Mitchell, Attorney-In-Charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “This decision recognizes that trauma inflicted on youth when the police are involved and an unnecessary arrest is made. ACS must devise a way to deal with these situations that does not involve handcuffs. We will closely monitor our cases to ensure that this practice has fully ended.”

“Today's decision ends a decades-old policy that criminalizes runaway foster children and alienates traumatized youth in foster care from their casework and clinical teams. The Court recognized that victimized children should not be treated as criminals,” said Israel T. Appel, Staff Attorney with the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

CAPstat Analysis: NYPD Officers Who Work the Most Overtime Are Also Sued for Misconduct at a Higher Rate Compared to Their Peers

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The Legal Aid Society’s CAPstat – a database containing publically available information culled from Federal civil rights lawsuits brought against the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for misconduct – released an analysis today of its data showing that NYPD officers who work the most overtime are sued at higher rates. Combining payroll data for fiscal years 2015-2018 with Federal lawsuit data from January 2015 to June 2018, CAPstat found that there is a significant positive correlation between NYPD officers who work the most overtime and the number of lawsuits filed against them. It does not appear that this is a result of officers simply working more or being forced to perform overtime, since a similar correlation was not found when comparing officers’ average regular yearly hours to the number of lawsuits filed against them.

As demonstrated in the following graph, 78 officers had five or more Federal lawsuits filed against them from January 2015 to June 2018. Those officers averaged 406 hours of overtime per year, as compared to the 214 hours for officers who had no known Federal lawsuits filed against them.

“These data show that the Department allows its officers to rake in unlimited overtime without much concern for the lawsuits filed against them by New Yorkers alleging misconduct,” said Julie Ciccolini, Analyst with the Special Litigation Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “Our analysis makes it apparent once again that providing a monetary motivation to make arrests will result in more abusive and unconstitutional policing.

Some notable examples from CAPstat of NYPD officers who continue to accrue significant overtime – and sometimes promotions - despite multiple allegations of civil rights violations:

  • Detective Waliur Rahman averaged 607 hours of yearly overtime in fiscal years 2015-2017, which ranks in the 97th percentile for a Second Grade Detective. He was also named in 12 lawsuits in that time period, costing the City $182,500 in settlements. Nevertheless, he was still promoted to a First Grade Detective in Fiscal Year 2018, and has been sued two more times since then.
  • Sergeant Adan Munoz averaged 430 hours of yearly overtime during fiscal years 2014-2017, which ranks in the 86th percentile for a Sergeant. He simultaneously accumulated 16 lawsuits, costing the City $910,001 in settlements.
  • Sergeant Juan Ortiz averaged 501 hours of yearly overtime from fiscal years 2015-2017, which ranks in the 97th percentile for average overtime hours for a Sergeant. He was also sued 11 times in those three years, resulting in almost $148,501 in settlements.
  • Francesco Allevato made 423 hours of overtime in Fiscal Year 2015, which ranked in the 89th percentile for a Police Officer. He was also sued six times in 2015 for a total of $566,000 in settlements. Nevertheless, he was promoted to a Third Grade Detective around September 2016, and has since been sued six more times while averaging 460 hours of overtime a year.
  • Sergeant David Grieco has consistently been in the top 99% of overtime earners in his rank for fiscal years 2015-2017. Greico made the second most overtime for a police officer in FY 2016, and was promoted to a third grade detective in FY 2017, when he made the sixth-most overtime out of all third grade detectives. Despite the fact that he was sued 12 times in that three-year span, for a total of $154,500 in settlements so far, he was again promoted to Sergeant in FY 2018.

About CAPstat

CAPstat was created to show how transparency can improve the public’s collective ability to identify trends in misconduct and to advocate for reform. The database highlights the amount of taxpayer money spent towards settling repeated incidents of police misconduct that the City has failed to properly track and remedy. The database can and should be used by policymakers and by the NYPD to better identify and prevent systemic patterns of police misconduct and to discipline the officers who repeat this misconduct. The database can also be used as a resource for people who have witnessed or who have been harmed by police misconduct, so as to help them decide whether to take legal action. www.capstat.nyc

Legal Aid Files Litigation Challenging Oath Decision That Upholds Practice of NYPD Issuing E-bike Summonses to Food Delivery Workers Instead of Their Employers

Lawsuit Also Names NYPD and Challenges the Department’s Enforcement Tactics Which Still Illegally Target Delivery Workers

The Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit today on behalf of a Legal Aid client in New York State Supreme Court challenging a recent Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) decision which states that New York Police Department (NYPD) officers may issue $500 summonses to food delivery workers who utilize e-bikes for deliveries in New York City. This decision ignores the NYPD Patrol Guide and misinterprets New York City Administrative Code Section 10-157(k), which explicitly directs officers to issues summonses to business owners and vendors instead of the delivery workers who ride these bikes.

  • Read the press release (PDF)
  • View the complaint (PDF)
  • The lawsuit also names the NYPD for continuing to unlawfully issue summonses to e-bike delivery workers. The plaintiff in the lawsuit is a food delivery worker employed by a restaurant in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. On November 17, 2018, while out making a delivery for his employer, he was issued a summons for riding an e-bike, even though he was carrying a food order.

    At $500 each, these summonses can be crippling for most delivery workers, many of whom live paycheck-to-paycheck and have limited financial resources. Moreover, the NYPD continues to confiscate e-bikes from workers, thereby completely stripping them of their livelihoods.

    “With this ruling, OATH disregards the NYPD Patrol Guide and the New York City Administrative Code concerning who should shoulder e-bike fines – businesses or workers,” said Steven Wasserman, Staff Attorney with the Special Litigation Unit at The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Practice. “This lawsuit is designed to ensure that OATH complies with existing law so that our clients and other low-income food delivery workers are no longer illegally ticketed while trying to earn a living.”

    Last week, an analysis of the City’s NYPD Motor Vehicle Collisions database by Do Lee, a Biking Public Project organizer, and Alex Rhodd, Research and Data Quality Analyst at The Legal Aid Society, found that e-bikes account for an extremely small percentage of injuries in collisions.

    These data underscore the fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s crackdown on these types of bikes based on alleged “safety concerns” is unfounded and discriminatory. They also highlight the prevalence of over-policing to which people of color and low-income communities are routinely subjected.

Legal Aid Calls on Manhattan and Bronx District Attorneys to Review All Cases Involving Recently Indicted NYPD Detective Joseph E. Franco

The Legal Aid Society called on New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke to review each and every case involving New York City Police Department (NYPD) Detective Joseph E. Franco, who was recently indicted in New York State Supreme Court on 16 counts, including Perjury in the First Degree, Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, and Official Misconduct, all of which led to false arrests and to the wrongful incarceration of innocent New Yorkers.

According to Legal Aid case records, Franco worked in the Bronx most likely out of the 46th Precinct from 2001 to 2003. He was most recently stationed with the Manhattan South Narcotics Division.

Legal Aid conducted a preliminary review of cases and determined that Franco was a named arresting officer in dozens of cases but most likely involved in hundreds of Legal Aid client arrests. Over Franco’s nineteen years with the Department, he had a role in thousands of arrests, as detailed by his attorney and reported in the New York Daily News.

“We are shocked but not surprised that a 19-year veteran of the NYPD has been indicted for framing innocent New Yorkers. Our hearts go out to Julio Irizarry, Tameeka Baker, Turrell Irving, and their families and communities for the losses that they have endured. It should not be lost on us that the disgraced detective has framed at least three individuals that we know of, and more significantly, that those individuals pled guilty to crimes that they absolutely did not commit. As such, we demand that the Manhattan and Bronx District Attorneys conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of every case involving Detective Franco for misconduct. This behavior must not be tolerated,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

“The Court’s bail decision in this case coupled with the fact that the Detective’s victims served upstate prison for his lies is further proof of the criminal legal systems over handedness when dealing with Black and Brown New Yorkers as alleged perpetrators of crimes. Detective Franco will have an opportunity to defend himself from the outside, while our clients sit incarcerated at Rikers Island accused of much less, simply on account of their economic status and the color of their skin. We welcome the new bail legislation which would grant many of our clients the opportunity just afforded Detective Franco – the ability to fight their cases from the outside. It’s also horrifying to imagine how many lives Detective Franco has ruined in 19 years, before the prevalence of surveillance cameras and cell phone videos. These atrocities could only happen in a system where the balance of power is so heavily weighted in favor of prosecutors that these individuals did not believe they stood a chance when it was their word against that of a police officer all the while sitting in jail on bail they could not afford and with zero access to the evidence in their cases,” said Marie Ndiaye, Supervising Attorney of the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society.

Legal Aid Calls for Stronger Oversight Over Local Government Efforts to Eliminate Sexual Abuse and Harassment at City Jails

The Legal Aid Society called for stronger oversight from the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) over local government efforts – including the New York City Department of Correction - to eliminate sexual abuse and sexual harassment (PREA Standards) at a BOC meeting today. Legal Aid also urged Board members to scrutinize the performances of the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) and the Bronx District Attorney’s Office on this issue as both offices have a mandate to combat sexual harassment and abuse at Rikers Island and other local jails.

“On virtually a daily basis we hear from some person in custody that staff or other incarcerated persons have touched them, groped them, or debased them verbally. Staff frequently look the other way; prevention is virtually nonexistent, and accountability even rarer,” said Dori Lewis, Supervising Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society. “This hearing was an opportunity for the Board to demand answers from DOC—and from other City officials—about why this abuse persists, and what concrete steps they will take to prevent it. We learned for the first time at the hearing that the Department of Correction has rejected recommendations made by DOI in 2017 to prevent sexual abuse, with no reasons given other than administrative convenience and cost. This can’t be allowed to continue and the Board needs to engage in even more vigilant oversight—oversight that must continue well beyond this hearing, because it is clear these issues with PREA compliance are not going away."

In a letter sent last month to the Board in advance of today’s hearing, Legal Aid cited a case that underscores the immediate need for stronger BOC oversight in which an incarcerated person at Rikers Island – J.G. – was sexually assaulted by an officer approximately fifteen times in one month while housed in a protective custody unit at the Anna M. Kross Center (“AMKC”) in fall 2015. J.G. was subjected to repeated intimate contact, touching and fondling, and was forced to touch the officer’s gentiles through his clothes, among other acts. J.G. reported the abuse about two months after it ended.

DOI substantiated J.G.’s allegations of abuse on October 6, 2016 and found that the officer engaged in unlawful sexual contact. DOI referred the matter to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office for criminal prosecution and referred it to DOC for administrative action against the officer. DOI took about nine months to complete its investigation. After two and a half years, the Bronx District Attorney’s office still has taken no action. Nor has any administrative action been taken against this officer, who has remained on modified duty at full salary.

“This case isn’t an anomaly,” said Kayla Simpson, a Staff Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project, testified at the hearing. “There is a fundamental problem in the culture at DOC: there’s no accountability and staff knows it. People do not believe they will get caught, and if they are caught, they don’t believe investigators will substantiate, and if investigators do substantiate, they don’t believe DOC will remove them from employment and they don’t believe district attorney’s offices will prosecute. If what happened to J.G. is any indication, they are right. How can we blame our clients when they tell us that they don’t want to report because there’s no point, when all the evidence shows that they’re right.”

Legal Aid also called for increased supervision of staff and investigations and discipline that actually lead to removal of staff who victimize some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Legal Aid also urged that DOI’s recommendations-be implemented, which include video footage being kept for a year, escorts of women in custody by a male and female officer in pairs to prevent abuse, and exit interviews of incarcerated persons by trained professionals in order for DOC to find out what is really going on inside their jails.

The next New York City Board of Correction meeting will be on Tuesday, May 14 at 9:00 am.