Justice Department Intervenes In Nunez

In an historic moment, today the United States Department of Justice announced its intention to sue New York City to redress the rampant abuse of prisoners held in New York City jails. The Legal Aid Society welcomes the Department of Justice’s request to intervene in Nunez v. New York, the lawsuit we have filed with two law firm partners, Ropes & Gray LLP and Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, seeking systemic reform of brutality in the City jails.

The DOJ findings confirm the Nunez allegations that there is a deep seated culture of violence in the City jails, and that hundreds of prisoners have suffered serious injuries as a result. Legal Aid has documented and reported these systemic constitutional violations for years, not only to the Department of Correction, but also to the City Council and in multiple lawsuits by our clients injured by correctional staff.  
The Department of Justice’s proposed complaint in the intervention in Nunez cites Legal Aid’s thirty years of class action litigation against staff brutality. Our successful results in those prior cases have shown that brutality is not inherent in the correctional mission, and that the City jails can be safely and securely operated without resort to excessive force—when the Department chooses to do so. The Department of Justice’s decision to intervene in Nunez gives the City a renewed opportunity to implement these reforms.  



The New York Times
U.S. Plans to Sue New York Over Rikers Island Conditions
DEC. 18, 2014
By Benjamin Weiser

Federal prosecutors plan to sue New York over widespread civil rights violations in the handling of adolescent inmates at Rikers Island, making clear their dissatisfaction with the city’s progress in reining in brutality by guards and improving conditions at the jail complex, a new court filing shows.

The decision to take the city to court comes more than four months after the office of Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, issued a blistering report that cited a pervasive and “deep-seated culture of violence” directed at teenage inmates at Rikers. The report found rampant use of excessive force by correction officers, the overuse of solitary confinement and an ineffectual system of investigating assaults by guards.

That report, which followed a 2½-year investigation by Mr. Bharara’s office, proposed more than 10 pages of remedial measures that prosecutors said the city’s Correction Department would have to put in place, and warned that if the city did not work toward that goal, the Justice Department could file a lawsuit and seek court-ordered reforms.

“While the United States had hoped to reach a speedy resolution with the city on these critical issues,” Mr. Bharara said in the filing on Thursday, “thus far insufficient progress has been made.”

In September, Mr. Bharara issued a strongly worded statement after The New York Times reported that city officials had withheld key portions of a report on violence at Rikers from his office during its investigation, and that officials involved in reporting distorted data had been promoted. Mr. Bharara said the revelations did “not instill confidence in us that the city will quickly meet its constitutional obligations.”

In its filing, Mr. Bharara’s office asked a federal judge in Manhattan for permission to intervene in an existing class-action lawsuit, Nunez v. City of New York, over brutality at Rikers that had been filed by the Legal Aid Society and two private law firms. In contrast to Mr. Bharara’s investigation of the treatment of adolescent inmates, the Nunez case focuses on all Rikers inmates, regardless of age.

Mr. Bharara’s office said in the filing that since settlement discussions had been underway for months in the Nunez case, it would be most efficient to resolve all of the claims together.

The federal filing comes the day after Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Rikers and declared that “progress is being made quickly” at the jail complex. Mr. de Blasio cited changes his administration has made, including ending the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-old inmates.