2014 was a tumultuous year for the legal system in the state of New York. Unpopular decisions not to indict police officers in the death of Eric Garner, and widespread protests created tense environments throughout the state. In December 2014, the metropolis landed at the center of another legal battle after federal prosecutors launched a lawsuit against the city. In a 36-page lawsuit, the U.S. government detailed a long history of civil rights violations of adolescents at Rikers Island, the second largest jail in the United States.
Just four months prior to the decision to proceed to court, the office Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District New York, released a report that revealed an infectious cycle of violence toward teenage inmates at Rikers. Amongst the infractions, the report detailed widespread excessive force by correction officers, the extraordinary use of solitary confinement, and a flawed system of investigating assaults by guards.
In a separate investigation on Rikers Island, the New York Times found 129 inmates with serious injuries. Of that number, a sobering 77 percent were inmates who had received a mental-illness diagnosis. These sobering facts were clues to a pervasive culture of abuse, violence, and mistreatment at Rikers Island, which soon became ammunition for the current lawsuit against the city.
The current suit has been lodged in conjunction with a preexisting class-action lawsuit (Nunez v. City of New York) regarding brutality at Rikers Island. The Nunez case was filed in May 2012, to expose “a culture of routine and institutionalized staff violence against inmates” within the New York City Department of Correction. Combined with the current suit, the Office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara believes it will be an effective way to address the violence targeted at both adults and adolescents at Rikers Island.
In light of the activities that took place in 2014, the current year is shoring up to be a litigious one for New York City and the state of New York.
Keywords: litigation, access to justice, New York City, Rikers Island, New York, violence, brutality, lawsuit, government, Department Of Correction, civil rights
— Erika L. Glenn, Rodney Jones Law Group, Houston, TX