Police Misconduct and Brutality Lawsuits
Police Misconduct and Brutality Lawsuits
Police officers are charged with upholding the law and protecting the people in the communities they serve; it is devastating when a police officer breaks this public trust and abuses his or her power. Fortunately, the majority of police officers are dedicated to their jobs and act with integrity. Unfortunately, however, cases of police brutality and misconduct continue to occur across the country.
Being victimized by an authority figure can be traumatizing, causing emotional, financial, and physical damage and injury. Pursuing litigation over police brutality allows victims and their families to seek justice and also protects other civilians who may fall prey to police misconduct.
If you or someone you know experienced police brutality or misconduct, call Parker Waichman LLP today.
Multi-Million Dollar Federal Jury Award in Lawsuit Brought Against Nassau County and its Medical Provider
A Long Island jury found Nassau County and Armor Correctional Health Services negligent in the suicide death of a former Marine. The federal lawsuit alleged that the county and Armor were negligent during the decedent's brief incarceration for driving while under the influence by failing to provide the ex-combat veteran with proper care despite a screening showing that he was a suicide risk.
In the ground-breaking lawsuit, and following just one day of deliberations, the federal jury in Central Islip found both Nassau County Jail and its medical provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, negligent over the death of a combat veteran being held at Nassau County's jail five years prior. On April 20, 2017, the surviving family was awarded close to $8 million. The civil case was heard in the United States District Court in Central Islip and began on April 3, 2016, according to a Newsday report.
Attorney, Nicholas Warywoda, of Parker Waichman LLP represented the family of Bartholomew Ryan a former decorated Marine who was incarcerated in 2012 over driving while under the influence of drugs. The former Marine was 32-years-old at the time of his death.
Sergeant Ryan struggled with drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when he returned from his Iraq War service. The drug abuse began after he was prescribed painkillers over a service injury he suffered during his time in boot camp for a groin injury. He was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. His family said that, following eight months of combat and his four years—2003-2007—of military service, he returned a different person "Mentally, he changed, due to what he experienced and saw," Mr. Warywoda said.
Former Sergeant Ryan developed an opiate addiction and abused heroin and other drugs after his boot camp prescription, according to Mr. Warywoda. Sergeant Ryan's family said the decorated Marine was subject to an array of drug-related arrests and vehicular wrecks. His marriage ended and he was unable to maintain a job, Newsday reported. Mr. Warywoda advised jurors that part of Sergeant Ryan's wartime job was bringing patients, some with very significant injuries such as missing limbs, to a hospital, Newsday reported. Sergeant Ryan was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. "Bart made a commitment to defend our country … he did his job ... and because of that, he suffered mental issues," Mr. Warywoda noted.
According to Armor Correctional Health Services, inmates who receive referrals for "urgent" treatment may wait 24 hours for care, said Mr. Warywoda. "If they had just listened to that form that deemed him a suicide risk, we wouldn't be here today," Mr. Warywoda said during the trial, referring to a jail document completed by a corrections officer when Sergeant Ryan was first brought in for incarceration and screened for suicide risks, Newsday reported. The State Commission of Correction found Armor's treatment to be lacking in at least five Nassau inmate deaths, including Sergeant Ryan's and also found an Armor psychiatrist conducted an insufficient evaluation of the sergeant's mental health just hours before he committed suicide. It took 18 hours after Ryan's admission for a psychiatrist to see him, Mr. Warywoda said, noting that the doctor's sole diagnosis was opiate dependency and not PTSD or bipolar disorder and that the physician did not prescribe Sergeant Ryan any drugs for mental health issues. Six hours later, the decorated Marine was dead, according to Newsday.
The family's civil lawsuit alleged that the death of the former Marine was wrongful as Nassau County and Armor Correctional Health Services acted with negligence during his brief imprisonment; that Armor Correctional Health Services and Nassau County neglected to attend to the veteran's medical needs; and that Sergeant Ryan never received appropriate care, despite that he presented as a suicide risk, Mr. Warywoda said at trial. The family alleged that the facility violated Sergeant Ryan's eighth amendment constitutional right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment over a policy in which inmates with referrals for "urgent" treatment may wait 24 hours for care, wrote Newsday." When it came time for Armor to protect the health and safety of Bart, they failed him," Mr. Warywoda said to jurors.
Armor Correctional Health Services won its contract in 2011 and, since that time, four lawsuits have been brought against it on behalf of the families of inmates who died at the jail, according to Newsday. Jurors heard that most of the liability rests with Armor, but Mr. Warywoda also explained that Nassau County was partly liable as its officials "failed to properly train their correction officers." The jury ordered Armor Correctional Health Services to pay $7 million in punitive damages and $890,000 in compensatory damages to the Ryan family and against Armor and Nassau County, according to Newsday. "Thankfully, the jury made a point to tell Armor and the county that's not how you treat our veterans and people," said Nicholas Warywoda. "Justice is done," said Ryan's brother, Thomas.
At Rikers Island Prison, Inmates Accuse Guard of Rape, Settle Lawsuit for $1.2 Million
The City of New York has agreed to pay approximately $1.2 million in May 2017 to settle a lawsuit that was filed by two female inmates at Rikers Island who alleged that they had been repeatedly raped and sexually abused by the same correction officer, according to The New York Times. The lawsuit also alleged that there existed a "pervasive culture of rape and other sexual abuse" at the Rose M. Singer Center, the women's jail, and also accused the City of New York of allowing correction officers a "perceived free hand to retaliate" against the women who reported them. Separately, the women settled legal claims against the officer, Benny Santiago, for an undisclosed sum. The city did not represent Mr. Santiago.
Meanwhile, Rikers is still at the center of controversy over violence. In fact the State Commission of Correction recently ordered that all inmate transfers to Rikers from county jails outside the city be halted on the ground that the Rikers complex had become too dangerous. In April 2017, a federal monitor overseeing changes at Rikers reported that guards were continuing to use brutal force against prisoners at an "alarming rate," The New York Times reported.
The lawsuit filed by the women was scheduled for trial in early May 2017 before Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Federal District Court in Manhattan. In a recent brief, the plaintiffs accused Mr. Santiago of being "a serial sexual predator," noting that he was the subject of allegations made by, or on behalf of, female inmates for years. The female plaintiffs were identified as Jane Doe 1, who is currently in a state prison, and Jane Doe 2, who lives in Queens, according to the brief.
The brief also indicates that Mr. Santiago raped and sexually abused Jane Doe 1 for over four years, beginning in 2008. In a declaration, explained the New York Times, Jane Doe 1 said she did not "complain about Santiago's abuse because he let me know that he could hurt my family." Jane Doe 2, according to the brief, was repeatedly raped and sexually abused by Mr. Santiago in 2013. Jane Doe 2 said that she did not report him because he threatened to "write me an infraction and send me to solitary confinement." She finally advised a mental health clinician and a doctor concerning Mr. Santiago's abuse, according to the brief. She was advised that they could do nothing.
The brief is very critical of a subsequent City of New York investigation, in which it indicates that Mr. Santiago did not receive disciplinary action. Mr. Santiago is still employed as a correction officer but has no contact with inmates, a correction spokeswoman told the New York Times.
Spying Alleged at New York's Rikers Island
New York City's Department of Investigation has probed nearly all aspects of the Rikers Island jail complex in recent years such as "abuses committed by guards and inmates and the misuse of official cars by the commissioner and his staff," the New York Times reported in May 2017. Now the department is investigating the head of the Correction Department's Investigation Division as it believes the official, Gregory Kuczinski, planned a spying campaign against the department and called for his removal and, in early May 2017, Mr. Kuczinski was removed from his position and placed on modified duty.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was sent a lengthy letter by the Department of Investigation that indicated that Mr. Kuczinski and his subordinates broke city rules and regulations by routinely listening in on telephone calls between an investigator with the agency and inmates serving as informants, according to people with knowledge of the letter, the New York Times reported.
Joseph Ponte, the Correction Department commissioner said, "There was no improper eavesdropping," adding that when the Correction Department investigators realized that they were listening in on a conversation involving a Department of Investigation staff member they stopped the surveillance. "Clearly there was no intent to interfere with DOI and anything they were doing," he said. For his part, in a separate telephone interview with the New York Times, Mr. Kuczinski denied any wrongdoing and described agency officials reactions as "ridiculous," saying: "Are they trying to cover something up? I don't know."
The letter to Mayor de Blasio from the head of the department, Mark G. Peters, indicated that Mr. Ponte had learned of the surveillance in February after another official had stopped the surveillance, according to those speaking on anonymity. But Mr. Ponte did not report the surveillance to the investigation agency or take any action against Mr. Kuczinski. Instead, he promoted him to his current position. The claim was made just one week after the Department of Investigation released a report strongly reprimanding Mr. Ponte, Mr. Kuczinski, and two other key correction officials for misusing city cars, the most recent in a variety significant system-wide problems in the city jails that the agency revealed, according to the New York Times.
The letter's accusations reveal how Rikers continues to be beleaguered with various issues, including violence on the cell blocks, corruption in correction officer ranks, and significant mismanagement at all levels.
The accusations against the city jails' chief investigator—made by another department's investigators—is just about rock bottom for the jail system. They suggest that the individual responsible for flushing out corruption at the jail—he is responsible for unearthing administrative misconduct from Rikers 10,000 officers and for reviewing inmate crime—may have been focused instead on protecting the jail and its employees from further review.
Mayor di Blasio—in a statement issued by his press secretary, Eric F. Phillips—both acknowledged the severity of the accusations and indicated that change would come. "These are serious and troubling allegations," according to the statement. "We will work with the Department of Correction and the Department of Investigation to determine what happened and what changes must occur to ensure that it doesn't happen again."
Florida Refuses to Treat Prisoners Diagnosed with Hepatitis C, Some Die
Hepatitis C (hep C or HCV) is treated with a class of drug known as direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) and has been proven 90 percent effective curing the condition. One percent of the United States population typically lives with hep C; however, the rate is significantly increased—up to 17 percent—in state and federal prisoners, according to the Miami New Times.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed in Miami in May 2017 that includes allegations that the Florida Department of Corrections refused to provide DAAs to its inmates and is possibly allowing inmates to remain in pain or die from the virus, Miami New Times reported. According to the Florida Justice Institute, only five of the 5,000 Florida inmates diagnosed with HCV received DAA treatment. The lawsuit also alleges that, since many inmates are unaware that they are infected with HCV, anywhere from 14,000 to 41,000 cases may be unreported and untreated, wrote the Miami New Times.
TThe lawsuit also notes that at least 160 Florida inmates died of liver problems since 2013. "Since HCV is the most common cause of liver failure in the United States, it is likely that most of these deaths were due to chronic HCV," according to the lawsuit. "Upon information and belief, past and current practices of the Defendant are resulting in deaths that could have been prevented through treatment of HCV," according to the Miami New Times.
In January 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported that states nationwide are reticent to start administering DAA drugs, typically due to their high price. A full DAA treatment may cost between $55,000 to $75,000 per person, depending upon the state.
Prior investigations have shown the state prison system as being mismanaged and ready to hide serious signs of neglect. In fact, Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown's George Polk Award-winning series "Cruel and Unusual" led to numerous rule changes and resignations in the system.
Hepatitis C is a very painful condition in which liquid in the body collects, pressing against the body's organs. In one case involved in the lawsuit, one inmate's "feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, testicles, and stomach became painfully swollen," according to court documents. "His shins were cracked and leaking white liquid." HCV transmissions occurs through contact with infected blood. In the prison and jail system, this likely occurs through sexual contact, intravenous drug use, or prison tattoos, the Miami New Times reported.
Private State Prisons Placing Savings Over Inmates
The privatization of prisons in Florida has not been quite as profitable for taxpayers, according to The Miami Herald. Democrat Representative David Richardson (Democrat-Miami Beach), who is also a certified public accountant (CPA), has been investigating private Florida state prison contracts. According his expert assessment, the savings that Florida Governor Rick Scott was looking for by awarding contracts to private operators to maintain the prison system have not occurred. In fact, in some cases, the private operators have been more expensive than if the prisons were being handled by the state.
In one case involving the Gadsden Correctional Institution in North Florida, Representative Richardson found that the prison saved money by depriving inmates of necessary services, including heating, hot water, and medical care.
Last May 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced plans to end the use of private prisons by not renewing the contracts of third-party companies by enabling the slow return to state and federally-run prisons. Also, in recent years, the news media and human rights organizations have reported poor conditions and mistreatment of inmates in private prisons, which bear similarities to those discovered at Gadsden. One common threat involved saving money by enabling shortages elsewhere, specifically involving the mistreatment of prisoners.
Types of Police Misconduct
Police misconduct may take many different forms. The most frequent example involves the use of excessive force, or brutality. Police officers are allowed to use a reasonable amount of force, as necessary, to control a situation. If an officer exceeds what is deemed reasonable, he or she may be guilty of violating an individual's civil rights. Excessive use of force may also lead to serious injuries, including disability and death. Examples of police misconduct may include:
- Coercion or blackmail
- Excessive force
- False arrest or wrongful imprisonment
- Fatal shootings
- Illegal search and seizure
- Racial profiling
- Sexual assault
Weapons and Excessive Force
Some victims allege harm through the use of a weapon, such as a Taser or a gun. The precise legal use of police firearms is dictated by each state; however, typically policies indicate that guns should only be used when a police officer or another person is in imminent danger, or if a suspect who allegedly committed a dangerous crime is fleeing and poses an imminent danger to others following their escape. Sadly, there have been a number of cases in which a police officer used his or her firearm in unwarranted situations, sometimes allegedly killing an innocent civilian.
Excessive force may also occur through Tasing. Many believe that Tasers are non-lethal; however, that is not necessarily the case. According to an Amnesty International report for the United States from 2015 to 2016, at least 670 Taser-related deaths occurred since 2001; 43 Taser-related deaths occurred across 25 states. The report also found that authorities fail to accurately document the number of people killed by law enforcement each year, noting that estimates range anywhere from 458 to more than 1,000 people. Additionally, Amnesty International described state statutes on the use of lethal force "far too permissive," nothing that "none limit the use of firearms to a last resort only after non-violent and less harmful means are exhausted, and where the officer or others are faced with an imminent threat of death or serious injury."
Illegal Search and Seizure
Police misconduct may involve a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from illegal searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment indicates that civilians cannot be searched without probable cause.
Injuries and Deaths Caused by SWAT Team Search Warrants
In March 2017, The New York Times published an investigative report calling attention to deaths and injuries that result when SWAT team officers are used to execute search warrants. Most of the time, these tactical raids are conducted in search of drugs. No-knock warrants, as they are called, give police officers the right to force entry into a home to execute their search warrant. There are also other warrants in which police are required to announce themselves before forcing their way in; these are knock-and-announce entries. The NYT reports that, in many situations, it makes little difference which method is employed.
The NYT piece paints a terrifying picture of the raids; a team of fully armored police officers carrying an assortment of military-type weapons enter a home unannounced, ready for battle. The idea for SWAT emerged out of Los Angeles and other large cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s to manage civil unrest and firefights. Now, however, they are mostly used for drug searches. The NYT writes, "Once the teams were formed, their existence had to be justified. Drug searches became the answer."
But it seems like these armed and unannounced drug raids are often being conducted at the cost of safety. According to an NYT investigation, drug raids conducted from 2010 through 2016 resulted in the deaths of at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers. This investigation was based on open-record requests along with police and court files. The NYT notes that, for the most part, the government does not require reporting for SWAT team-related fatalities.
NYT reports that these aggressive drug raids have resulted in avoidable deaths, injuries, and legal settlements. One well-known case occurred in May 2014 when a SWAT team officer mistakenly threw a flash-bang grenade into a toddler's playpen, severely injuring him. Deputy Nikki Autry, who was with the Habersham County sheriff's department at the time, conducted the raid. According to The NYT, Autry conducted a number of errors in pursuing the no-knock warrant. Among other things, she failed to adequately assess whether there were children in the house.
The child, who survived the explosion, underwent his 15th surgery in late 2016. The family says he and his siblings remain traumatized by the event. Although they received $3.6 million in settlements from a federal lawsuit, the family says only $200,000 remains. The rest has been used on medical and legal expenses.
The NYT reports that this type of unannounced forced and armed entry, or "dynamic entry" has affected children, elderly individuals, innocent people, and even family pets. Dynamic entries prompted an average of 30 civil rights lawsuits each year from 2010 to 2015, according to the NYT investigation. The paper writes, "Many of the complaints depict terrifying scenes in which children, elderly residents, and people with disabilities are manhandled at gunpoint, unclothed adults are rousted from bed, and houses are ransacked without recompense or apology."
These raids are particularly concerning when they are used on someone who is innocent. For example, a 68-year-old woman and her 18-year-old daughter say they were handcuffed in front of neighbors in 2012. The police had forced their way into her home after someone pirated the woman's internet connection to make threats against the authorities. In Detroit, a seven-year-old girl died when police officers had the wrong address.
Raid-related injuries and deaths have led to legal settlements. In 2010, a 22-year-old woman was shot in the chest by a police officer armed with an assault rifle. She was hiding in the closet when the police forced their way into her home. It turns out, they were supposed to raid the apartment below her. The police officer says he tripped, and shot her by mistake. The woman spent a week in the hospital and an additional three months recovering. She won a $650,000 legal settlement.
The NYT reports that, among the civil lawsuits filed, at least seven were settled for over $1 million from roughly 2012 through 2017. One $3.75 million settlement was awarded to the family of a man who was accidentally shot while lying on his stomach. The Framingham grandfather was unarmed and compliant. In 2013, a 26-year-old former Marine was shot over 20 times during a drug raid. The police failed to find any drugs. His family reached a $3.4 million settlement.
The Times reports that "In each of those cases, as in almost all botched raids, prosecutors declined to press charges against the officers involved."
Not all police officers believe in the regular use of dynamic entry. In fact, the National Tactical Officers Association has long said that these types of raids should only be used when necessary. Robert Chabali, who served as chairman from 2012 to 2015, has even said that dynamic entry should never be used to search for drugs. "It just makes no sense," he said to The NYT. "Why would you run into a gunfight? If we are going to risk our lives, we risk them for a hostage, for a citizen, for a fellow officer. You definitely don't go in and risk your life for drugs."
What Should I Do If I Am A Victim?
Cases of police brutality may be complicated because many victims go directly to jail after allegedly being abused, which may lead to further trauma. If you are free to act after being victimized, you should take the following steps to start seeking justice:
- Document the entire incident in detail. This includes taking numerous photos of your injuries and any damage.
- Seek medical attention immediately. Healthcare professionals will not only treat your injuries, they will also document your injuries in your medical records.
- Obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses to the alleged police brutality.
- Contact one of our attorneys
If you find yourself in the hands of law enforcement after the misconduct, do your best to remain as calm as possible in order to protect yourself. Comply with requests made of you by law enforcement. Do not show any signs of non-compliance, as this could be used against you. Contact one of our attorneys as soon as the incident is over.
Parker Waichman's Experience With Police Misconduct and Brutality Lawsuits
Parker Waichman has received, on behalf of its clients, monetary awards for various plaintiffs who were, for example:
- Assaulted by correction officers at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility.
- Assaulted by Emergency Medical Service (EMS) worker.
- Thrown down a flight of stairs by a police officer.
- Shot in the back by a police officer.
- Shot at by a police officer while sitting on steps outside his home with his child.
Legal Help for Victims of Police Brutality and Misconduct
If you or someone you know suffered police brutality or misconduct, you may have valuable legal rights. Our firm offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, fill out our online form or call one of our experienced attorneys at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).