New York State has a lengthy and infamous track record of violating the civil rights of prisoners and arrestees.
If you or a loved one have suffered abuse or neglect by law enforcement officers or prison guards, you can file a lawsuit to secure compensation, hold the culprits accountable, and contribute to reform efforts that could save many lives.
Although New York city has come a long way in trying to reduce violent police interactions with citizens and establishing trust with minorities, the state’s jails and prisons remain dangerous places, where people locked up for a misdemeanor are often taken out in a coffin with little or no information to relatives as to what really happened.
New York Corrections Officers Rampant Brutality & Corruption
The New York Times has often reported on “a troubling pattern of savage beatings by corrections officers at prisons across New York State and a department that rarely holds anyone accountable.” Surveillance video has shown moribund inmates being dragged along the floor and beaten by guards until their last breath.
Evidence of rampant brutality and corruption in New York’s prison system has been often divulged in the press. One of the most recent scandals involves the escape of two inmates from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility located in Dannemora.
According to the findings in a journalistic investigation, also by the Times, guards beat up other inmates and choked them with plastic bags while questioning them about the whereabouts of the escapees.
Under federal legislation, prisoners have a right to be appropriately nourished, to live in humane facilities, to have access to adequate health care, recreation, and education, and to be free from sexual abuse and excessive force. They also have a right to complain about abuse, neglect, and substandard facilities.
Like in many other regions nationwide, in a staggering number of cases, those rights are routinely violated. Our New York prison death and abuse attorneys have a track record of obtaining large settlements and verdicts in cases involving wrongful death, sexual assault, and medical neglect in several New York jails, prisons, and youth correctional facilities.
Our team of investigators boasts a wide network of contacts in the state’s prison system. Over the years, our prisoners’ rights advocates have developed proven strategies to get to the bottom of any inmate death or abuse investigation, hold the culprits accountable, and contribute to reform efforts.
Deadly Prisons across New York – “Unknown Causes” say Jail & Prison Authorities
According to official statistics nearly 200 people die in New York jails and prisons every year. A staggering 45 deaths were attributed by the authorities to “unknown causes” in 2016. In fact, unofficial data might reveal that the zero homicides weren’t such that some of the deaths attributed to natural causes were a result of medical neglect, and that many suicides could have been prevented, for example, simply by taking inmates out of solitary confinement or providing adequate mental health care.
Driven to Suicide
New York State prisons have been home to a large portion of prison suicides taking place in the U.S. between 2001 and 2013. For that period, the state had the third-highest number of suicides in the country, at 165 lost inmate lives. In fact, according to an NBC News report, suicide kills more inmates than the combined death toll of homicide, drug overdose, and accidents.
The case of Lonnie Hamilton vividly illustrates much of what is wrong with the New York prison system, and its role in instances of inmate suicide.
Hamilton was 22 years old. The grandson of a bishop, he was in school and had a job. He had a loving father and mother. At some point, according to his father, he started hanging out with the wrong crowd in the Bronx. He was eventually arrested for robbing a food deliveryman.
While he was held at Marcy Correctional Facility in Oneida County, NY, his father went online to retrieve some data to send him a package. He found that the corrections system listed his son as deceased. It took him hard, long months to learn anything about the circumstances of his death.
Hamilton committed suicide while in solitary confinement. According to prison records, he had been taken out of suicide watch, without the mandatory evaluation by a mental health professional. Witness reports shed some light on what may have really happened.
A fellow inmate said guards were constantly harassing Hamilton, withdrawing his meals, not giving him his mandatory one-hour daily recreation outside, and telling him to “kill himself already.” They also allegedly sprayed him with a fire extinguisher. Witnesses say the boy didn’t fare well at the facility on account of his complaints about the constant civil rights violations he observed.
His family was able to rescue his body from a common grave and give him a burial in the church where his late grandfather once preached, but they still haven’t found justice.
Persistent Sexual Abuse at New York State Prisons – Routine say Prisoners
There have been countless cases of inmate sexual abuse in the state of New York. In 2016, six women filed a lawsuit stating that corrections officers routinely engaged in this type of behavior, primarily because cases of disciplinary action against the culprits were extremely rare.
The lawsuit also highlighted the high risk of retaliation involved in internal investigation systems. According to the plaintiffs, who did not seek compensation, but only reform and safety for their fellow inmates, the Department of Corrections’ “zero tolerance” policy has failed to overturn the culture of sexual abuse by staff at women’s prisons.
The complaint introduced abundant details about inmates being raped and abused by guards at three all-women facilities: Bedford Hills, Taconic, and Albion.
Because a prisoner cannot legally consent to intercourse with a guard, any kind of sexual contact between prison staff and inmates is a violation that should be met with the full weight of the law. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the encounters are not consensual, and the guards who engage in these practices are criminals who should serve time and be registered for life as sex offenders. This, of course, is not happening either.
According to the womens’ complaint, one of the victims, who was systematically sexually abused for a year by the same officer, talked to an investigator about her allegations. The response was that nothing would happen to her rapist, “because nothing was caught on camera, there was no DNA, and because ‘inmate statements were not worth that much.”
In their joint complaint, the victims stated, “This is not part of my sentence. I was not sentenced to be abused by officers.” But in New York State, women, and men, often are.
Worst New York Prisons and Jails: Marcy, Southport, Rikers, Fishkill, Downstate
Marcy Correctional Facility:
The scene of Lonnie Hamilton’s death is infamous as one of the worst facilities in the state, and home to many civil rights violations. A program that forces men with exhibitionistic disorder to wear a heavy duty nylon suit padlocked in the neck is most frequently used at Marcy.
Although the suits are supposedly reserved for inmates who expose themselves to female staff, they have been used to punish other behaviors. One man who was forced to wear the suit for extended periods called it a “medieval” punishment straight out of a “concentration camp,” in a lawsuit.
Southport Correctional Facility:
This maximum security prison has seen some of the most horrendous cases of prisoner abuse in the country. This is no news to Jean Belot whose dreadlocks were pulled out of his scalp while a hard object was inserted into his rectum, all compliments of Southport prison staff. Unlike many others, Belot survived. “It was the longest minutes of my life," he recalls.
In December, 2017, the Correctional Association of New York, released a report entitled Solitary at Southport. After analyzing 190 survey responses by inmates who spent time at one of the prisons’s 350 solitary confinement cells, and doing follow-up investigations, the authors concluded that the facility “embodies some of the very worst aspects of incarceration in New York.”
The survey also revealed that the prison’s 90 percent Black population suffers harassment and beatings from the nearly all-white staff. Inmates also denounced that minor misbehavior like disobeying an order was commonly used to justify unwarranted extensions of solitary confinement.
A Black inmate who spent nearly five years in solitary confinement at Southport recalls: “It was a horrible, horrible experience... I still feel the effects of it today. I deal with it every single day.”
This island jail complex is home to about 12,000 inmates spread among its 10 separate jails for men, women, and juveniles. Rikers is rife with cases of inmate-on-inmate violence, excessive force, sexual assault, and abuse of mentally ill prisoners. Like Southport, it has a shockingly high rate of solitary confinement.
In 2008, an 18-year-old boy was beaten to death by two other inmates. An investigation later revealed they had attacked the victim, Christopher Robinson, following orders from guards, who had implemented a secret “program” that involved extorting prisoners to beat up their peers. In an unusual outcome, two guards pleaded guilty to charges connected with the infamous “program.”
The Legal Aid Society said in a lawsuit that a pattern of staff violence was “deeply entrenched” at the facility, and that Rikers guards used “unlawful, excessive force with impunity.” Instead of addressing these problems, the Department of Corrections has responded by building more solitary confinement units, which now amount to 1,000.
Fishkill Correctional Facility:
There have been numerous allegations of staff-on-inmate violence at Fishkill, several resulting in favorable settlements for the victims. In December 2012, Steven Ostane was allegedly “stomped on, kicked [and] punched” by six guards while handcuffed. With a broken bone protruding through his skin, Ostane was left in his cell without medical attention for hours, which led to permanent damage.
After claiming prison authorities were negligent, because the same guards have been involved in numerous prior violations, he received a $450,000 settlement. As it often happens, the culprits were not even disciplined, and they may well be still abusing inmates right this minute.
Downstate Correctional Facility:
Also known for an abundance of staff misconduct lawsuits, Downstate houses prisoners before they are distributed to other facilities. In one of the most shocking cases of abuse, inmate Nathaniel Collins was kicked and thrown down a flight of stairs, all while handcuffed. The two guards who did it, threatened him, saying he would “be HURT very badly,” if he spoke about what had happened, according to a lawsuit Collins filed, for which he eventually obtained a favorable settlement.
New York State Prison Abuse and Neglect Lawsuits Lead to Multi-Million Dollar Settlements and Contribute to System Reform
Between 2011 and 2015, the State of New York paid $10 million to prisoners in civil rights settlements, according to data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Although we cannot bring the victims back to life, these stories prove that there can be justice. Our prison abuse attorneys are passionate civil rights advocates, always looking for opportunities to expose a flawed system, fight for compensation and relief for victims and their families, and most importantly, work towards system reform.
Recent settlements in New York State cases:
In September 2016, New York City agreed to pay $5.75 million to the family of a mentally ill inmate who died in solitary confinement at Rikers Island after guards denied him water and critical medication for six days. The wellbeing of the victim, Bradley Ballard, who was both diabetic and schizophrenic, had not been the sole responsibility of the correctional officers, but also of the prison’s mental health care provider, Corizon Inc. Unfortunately, Corizon managed to dodge contributing to the payout during settlement negotiations.
In November 2017, a jail health care provider and Albany County agreed to pay $1.1 million to the family of 24-year-old Mark Cannon, who died when medical staff failed to call for emergency assistance for a shocking 12 hours after he suffered a stroke at Albany County Jail. A Commission of Correction investigation referred to the care Cannon received as "so grossly inadequate ... it shocks the conscience."
In July 2015, twelve men who filed a lawsuit alleging they had been physically abused by Rikers Island guards, reached settlements amounting to a combined total of $3.5 million. One of the plaintiffs alleged he had been hit and pepper-sprayed by guards. Individual settlements ranged between $75,000 and $750,000. At the time, a spokesperson for the victims commented, “These men finally feel a sense of justice and recognition that the city is paying this compensation for the serious injuries they received at Rikers Island.”
In December 2017, New York city agreed to pay a combined total of $5 million to over 450 former Rikers Island inmates who were put in isolation units only because they had previously spent time there. This was part of an NYC policy: inmates at Rikers who had been there before would be forced into solitary confinement if they had been kept there during their previous stay at the facility.
The alleged violations covered in the lawsuit took place between November 2012 and September 2015. After 2015, the policy was finally dropped.
There is A Strict Status of Limitations for Wrongful Death Lawsuits. Act Now to Maximize Compensation and Expose Civil Rights Violations
In the State of New York, you have two years to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit. Estate Powers and Trust Law (EPTL) § 5-4.1 establishes that “an action to recover damages for a wrongful act, neglect or default which caused the decedent's death” must be commenced “within two years after the decedent's death.”
When beneficiaries are under 18, the statute of limitations starts after they reach that age. As there are other exceptions, it is best to consult with an attorney as soon as possible in order to determine which rules apply in your particular case.
Besides, prison staff and prison authorities are known for erasing traces of staff misconduct and tampering with evidence. Consult with one of our attorneys today to file a solid wrongful death and minimize these risks. Our aggressive and experienced lawyers can help you learn what truly happened and maximize compensation in Federal civil rights lawsuits.
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