Ingles v. Toro, 01 Civ. 8279 (DC) (S.D.N.Y.)

Nature of claims: This challenge to a pattern of excessive force by City jail staff against pre-trial detainees in violation of Eighth Amendment due process principles and state law was initially filed pro se by Mr. Ingles in 2001; Legal Aid agreed to represent him and filed an amended complaint and request for class certification in 2002. A follow-up to four prior successful class actions that reduced physical abuse at individual jails but failed to end the practice systemwide, this case addresses the problem at the 11 jails not encompassed by the previous cases. The complaint sought damages for 22 named plaintiffs and an injunction addressing use of force policy and training, supervision, investigation, and discipline of staff.

Current status: The parties reached a settlement agreement on February 17, 2006, which was approved by the court on April 3, 2006. The agreement, which was effective until November 1, 2009, provides for:

  • The widespread installation of recording wall-mounted video cameras in designated locations where uses of force are particularly likely;
  • Maintenance of a policy requiring the use of hand-held cameras during searches by the Emergency Services Unit, a frequent occasion of unjustified uses of force, and use of such cameras during anticipated uses of force;
  • Revisions to the Department of Correction’s use of force directive, designed to make the prohibition of excessive force and the requirement to minimize the force used more explicit, both for guidance of staff and for purposes of the staff disciplinary process;
  • A new Investigation Division Manual to guide the Department’s internal investigators and it is to address the areas of bias and weakness identified by plaintiffs’ experts and counsel;
  • Enhanced training in use of force investigations for the internal investigators;
  • Specified criteria, procedures, and time limits for opening investigations in use of force cases;
  • Enhanced facility level investigative procedures;
  • Enhanced staff use of force training, including a requirement that officers demonstrate competency at non-injurious defensive techniques they are trained in;
  • Tracking of officers’ use of force involvement;
  • Extensive monitoring and document reviewing rights, including review of reports and investigation of all use of force incidents in all the affected jails;
  • A complaint and dispute resolution procedure which requires defendants to respond to our communications within 30 days.

In addition, by separate agreement, the claims of the 22 named plaintiffs were settled for a total amount of $2.2 million dollars. The individual damage amounts have been sealed for the protection of the incarcerated clients.

We have just completed the period of monitoring compliance with the settlement agreement. Our review of departmental use of force reports has revealed continued instances of serious injury to class members, and internal investigations that appear biased and/or inadequate. We have repeatedly communicated these concerns to the Department of Correction. We have reviewed numerous videotapes and the corresponding use of force investigations, and have communicated to DOC our concerns both about videotaping practices and about the failure of departmental investigators to use the information effectively. We have met with the consultant who has subsequently prepared a new use of force investigations manual for the Department of Correction and have presented our views of the present system’s deficiencies and what is necessary to cure them.

During the monitoring period, we continued to identify a number of prisoners who were seriously injured by Correction staff in applications of force in the jails, although the installation of video cameras has led to a reduction in the numbers of prisoners injured in the areas covered by the cameras. We continue to receive numerous complaints from prisoners about excessive force by staff, and we convey those to the Department of Correction and request appropriate investigation and action. We have also filed a series of damages actions in selected cases in collaboration with firm co-counsel, and assist other prisoners in filing their own actions and obtaining pro bono counsel in other cases (see below). To date, all the damages cases that have been concluded have been settled with a payment of damages; the City has not contested any of them at trial. A number remain pending and others are in preparation for filing.

Persons Affected: About 13,000 pre-trial detainees

Reported decisions: Ingles v. Toro, 2003 WL 402565 (S.D.N.Y., Feb. 20, 2003) (certifying class); Ingles v. City of New York, 2004 WL 2274653 (S.D.N.Y., Oct. 8, 2004) (sustaining City’s deliberative privilege claim); Ingles v. City of New York, 2005 WL 1354028 (S.D.N.Y., June 7, 2005) (rejecting City’s request to bifurcate claims against the municipality from those against individuals and to try each damage case separately); Ingles v. Toro, 438 F.Supp.2d 203 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (approving settlement).