NYC and Albany County agree to $980K settlment with inmates

Albany County's jail

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Inmates accusing Albany County's jail of abuse will now receive $980,000.

ALBANY COUNTY — A suit filed last December by four young men, transferred from jail on Rikers Island in New York City to Albany County’s jail while awaiting trial, was settled this month.

The four young men will receive a total of $980,000, largely from the city of New York and Albany County. The suit names many officials from each venue.

The settlement states, “Nothing contained herein shall be deemed to be an admission by the defendants that they have in any manner or way violated plaintiff’s rights, or the rights of any other person or entity, as defined in the constitutions, statutes, ordinances, rules or regulations of the United States, the State of New York, or the City of New York or any other rules or regulations of any department or subdivision of the City of New York.”

The settlement says, further, that the evidence will not be tested in trial.

Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, who was named in the suit, did not return calls on Monday and Tuesday. After the suit was filed last Dec. 28, Kim DeSantis, secretary for the sheriff, had responded for Apple, saying, “He can’t talk because it’s in litigation. He would love to talk about it if he could.”

On Wednesday, DeSantis said Apple was out of town and couldn’t be reached. “There’s nothing we can say on this without the sheriff’s approval,” she said.

In April, Colleen McMahon, a judge in Manhattan Federal Court, who allowed the suit to proceed, took the unusual step of calling on federal and state prosecutors to investigate the suit’s allegations of mistreatment at the county jail.

The suit alleges that the young men, upon arrival in Albany County, were routinely assaulted, including sexual assault, by prison officers and that they were then forced to live in solitary confinement for months on end.

Judge McMahon wrote, near the end of her 82-page decision issued on April 30, that “there is reason to conclude, even at this early stage, that at least some of the horrors that are described in that pleading actually took place.”

“The truth will come out,” Chief Deputy William Rice, speaking on behalf of Albany County Sheriff Apple, told The Enterprise at the time. “But we have to go through legal channels.”

Rice also said then, “We believe the justice system will work.”

The suit, filed on Dec. 28, 2018, described in detail the experiences alleged by each of the four plaintiffs:

— Davon Washington, 19, an African American living in the Bronx who was released from custody on  Dec. 24, 2018;

— Steven Espinal, 19, a Latino who was, at the time the suit was filed, still in solitary confinement in Albany County’s jail;

— “John Doe,” 24, a Latino from the Bronx; and

— Pariis Tillery, 25, an African American in solitary confinement in Albany County’s jail at the time of the suit.

The descriptions alleged in the suit are strikingly similar. The young men, none of them convicted of a crime, are taken from Rikers without explanation, with no means of notifying their lawyers or families, and are put in a van with no windows and driven for about three hours to Albany without being told where they are going, the complaint says.

When they arrive, a dozen or so guards in green fatigues, known as the Green Team, put them in cages and “deliver commands that are bizarrely detailed and confusing,” the suit says, and, when the disoriented young men get it wrong, they are punched and kicked. The guards say they are hiding contraband in their bodies and, when they deny it, they are beaten some more, the complaint says, and some are shot with tasers between beatings.

“Guards insert their fingers and batons into the young men’s rectums … The young men lie naked on the floor, crying, pleading, covered in their own urine and feces,” the suit alleges. “There are no rules, no procedures, no laws in this place. The young men are far from their families, far from their lawyers, cut off from the outside world. They fear that they could be killed at any moment and no one would know what happened to them.”

The settlement awards Davon Washington, John Doe, and Pariis Tillery each $75,000 from New York City and another $75,000 from Albany County. Espinal is awarded $220,000 from Albany County alone.

The settlement also says that New York City pays $200,000 and Albany County pays $100,000 to be divided among the young men to pay for attorneys’ fees.

The suit was filed by Katherine Rosenfeld and Douglas E. Lieb of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady in Manhattan, and by Steven Goldman of Goldman & Associates in the Bronx.

The only other payment outlined in the settlement is from “Defendant Nurse Melissa ‘Missy’ Mylorie” who agrees to pay the plaintiffs a total of  $10,000 “in full satisfaction of all claims.” The suit had alleged that Mylroie, as a nurse at Albany County’s jail, did not give detainees proper medical care. Mylorie did not respond to an emailed request for comment from The Enterprise.

Solitary confinement

Four years ago, the suit notes, the federal Department of Justice issued a report on conditions at Rikers that stated the city improperly relied on solitary confinement as a tool to manage adolescent detainees, “expos[ing] them to risk of serious harm” and raising serious constitutional concerns. The report said that disruptive and unstable detainees became more disruptive and unstable when they were put in solitary confinement, isolated from social support and necessary services, and given little incentive to improve behavior.

The suit notes “growing societal recognition of the harm of solitary confinement, particularly for young people” and cites the American Psychiatric Association’s stance that solitary confinement is associated with increased risk of self-mutilation and suicidal ideation, greater anxiety, depression and paranoia, and that the risks are particularly acute for young people.

The suit notes that in January 2015, the New York City Board of Correction adopted a regulation banning solitary confinement, or “punitive segregation,” for detainees age 21 and younger in New York City. Regulations passed by the board also limit the time detainees over age 21 can spend in solitary confinement. For instance, an adult detainee cannot spend more than 30 consecutive days in solitary unless he has been sentenced for a serious assault on correctional staff, which has a maximum of 60 days.

The suit claimed that inmates were being sent to Albany County’s jail to get around the city’s ban on solitary confinement or “punitive segregation.”

The settlement binds Albany County to follow the Rules of the City of New York concerning punitive segregation for any Department of Corrections detainees housed at its jail, from Jan. 1, 2022 to dec. 31, 2023.

Earlier this year, The Enterprise had filed a Freedom of Information Law request, based on accusations made in the suit, requesting any documents that define policies or instruct employees of the Albany County Correctional Facility on the following topics: Use of tasers; use of pepper spray; rectal insertions or rectal examinations; beatings by correctional officers; solitary confinement; or privacy for inmates’ phone conversations with lawyers.

“Please be aware that any information requested which is not included with this response is not included within any existing general order,” wrote Undersheriff Michael S. Monteleone to Albany County Clerk Bruce A. Hidley in answering the request.

While policies on the other topics were provided, and reported on earlier, no policy on solitary confinement, also known as punitive segregation, was forthcoming.

Chief Deputy Rice said in May that the reason the Albany County jail has no policy or procedures for solitary confinement is simple. “We don’t have solitary confinement,” he said.

Circumventing city ban, suit says

The suit explains that New York State law allows for the transfer of pretrial detainees between jails in different counties through a procedure known as a “substitute jail order,” or SJO, which is issued by the state’s Commission of Correction.

Substitute jail orders are to be issued only under specified conditions, such as a natural disaster making a jail unfit to hold detainees, or “when the safety or security of a [detainee] or group of [detainees] is threatened by their confinement in a facility and the facility administrator reasonably believes that the public interest, as well as the safety of the [detainees], would be better served by their being housed in another … facility.”

Options within the same county are to be used first. Notice to the detainee is required, the suit says, quoting from the law: “The administrator of the receiving jail ‘shall provide [the detainee] immediately with a written notification of the reasons for his transfer.’ The transferred detainee ‘shall be entitled to all the rights and privileges available to other [detainees] of the receiving facility.”

The original jurisdiction pays the receiving jurisdiction’s expenses of holding the detainees, which the suit terms “a lucrative business for upstate county jails with excess capacity. In 2013, housing other counties’ detainees on SJOs brought Albany County more than $3 million in revenue.”

The suit also says that Albany County charges New York City $175 per day for each city detainee it houses at its jail.

The suit maintains that New York City sends “detainees whom it deems undesirable” to upstate jails “to circumvent its own ban on solitary confinement for detainees 21 and younger.”

The Oct. 21 settlement says, “The City of New York agrees that it will not seek substitute jail orders to transfer any inmates in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction (‘DOC’) to the Albany County Correctional Facility” through Dec. 31, 2021.

Further, the settlement states, “The City of New York agrees that each and every DOC inmate transferred outside the City of New York upon a substitute jail order shall, after the inmate is safely secured in the vehicle transporting him/her, be provided in the vehicle before it departs with a written ‘notice’ of transfer.”

The settlement goes on to list eight items that must be included in the notice, such as where the inmate is being transferred and the reason for the transfer.

The settlement also states “the inmate has the right to make phone calls to the inmate’s lawyer” and, “if the inmate wants to talk to his lawyer to let them know where they are being moved the inmate, he/she should ask the staff at the new jail.”

The settlement has an exhibit attached with a sample notice.

“In the event of non-compliance,” the settlement says, “plaintiffs’ counsel may seek judicial relief only by reinstating this lawsuit” and only for claims of a person allegedly injured by a non-monetary breach.

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