Fisher v. Koehler, 83 Civ. 2128 (MEL) (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of Claims: This action challenged excessive force and inmate-inmate violence, in violation of the Eighth Amendment, in Correctional Institution for Men (now the Eric M. Taylor Center), the City’s jail for sentenced misdemeanants on Rikers Island.

Current status: After a long trial, the court found that both the level of inmate-inmate violence and the abuse of prisoners by staff violated the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment. The court identified several causes of these problems, including overcrowding, inadequate use of force training, the lack of thorough and unbiased use of force investigations, the failure to discipline officers who abused prisoners, the lack of classification of prisoners, and lack of adequate security staffing. The lower court entered an injunction, and its decision was affirmed on appeal. The district court did not initially place a cap on the jail’s population, allowing the City the opportunity it requested to reduce violence without a population cap. When it failed, the court imposed the population cap.

Until recently, activity in this case is limited to reviewing records of violent incidents and responding to individual class members’ complaints. The judgment was modified by consent in 2006 to conform the applicable use of force policy to the improved policy negotiated in Ingles v. Toro (see above). In 2007, the City indicated its interest in terminating the injunction, and the parties have engaged in negotiations in hopes of resolving the matter without further litigation. The firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP has joined Legal Aid in representing the plaintiff class pro bono for the present proceedings.

Persons Affected: About 2,000 prisoners in the jail.

Reported decisions: Fisher v. Koehler, 692 F.Supp. 1519 (S.D.N.Y. 1988), injunction entered, 718 F.Supp. 1111 (S.D.N.Y. 1989), aff’d, 902 F.2d 2 (2d Cir. 2000).