Brooklyn detainees may sue NYC over ‘degrading’ conditions -U.S. court

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By Jonathan Stempel | NEW YORK

NEW YORK New York City must face a lawsuit
claiming it unconstitutionally subjected pretrial detainees at
Brooklyn Central Booking to “degrading” conditions such as
overcrowded and filthy cells, rotten food and undrinkable water,
a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

By a 3-0 vote, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
Manhattan rejected a Brooklyn federal judge’s finding that the
city and senior police officials could not be liable for damages
because the plaintiff detainees were held for less than one day,
and none suffered serious injury or sickness.

“Ultimately, the defendants’ theory appears to be that state
officials are free to set a system in place whereby they can
subject pretrial detainees awaiting arraignment to absolutely atrocious conditions for twenty-four hour periods (and perhaps
more) without violating the Constitution so long as nothing
actually catastrophic happens during those periods,” Judge John
Koeltl wrote for the appeals court. “That is not the law.”

The civil case had been brought on behalf of 20 pretrial
detainees arrested between July 2011 and July 2013 and held at
Brooklyn Central Booking, which has since been relocated.

Nick Paolucci, a New York City Law Department spokesman,
said in a statement the trial court “remains free to find for
the city after a fuller presentation of the evidence.”

New York City is regularly sued by prisoners, inmates and
detainees over their confinement.

It agreed in September to pay $5.75 million to settle a
lawsuit over the 2013 death of a mentally ill inmate found naked
and covered in feces after being locked for six days in his
Rikers Island cell.

The Brooklyn detainees said the city violated their due
process rights by stuffing them “like a can of sardines” into
crowded, infested, and garbage- and urine-caked cells with
broken toilets and a lack of toilet paper, soap, toothbrushes
and toothpaste.

They also said they were served inedible food and foul
water, subjected to extreme heat and cold, deprived of sleep,
and left to fend for themselves when other detainees became

“We painted a picture of the facility being alarming and
appalling,” Richard Cardinale, a lawyer for the detainees, said
in a phone interview. “Today we feel like our position has been
vindicated, and we look forward to a trial.”

Koeltl said the detainees could try to show that police
officials acted with deliberate indifference, including by
recklessly ignoring risks to their health and safety.

Tuesday’s decision returned the case to U.S. District Judge
William Kuntz in Brooklyn. Koeltl normally sits on the federal
district court in Manhattan.

The case is Darnell et al v. Pineiro et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals, No. 15-2870.

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