People’s Law Office Obtains Appellate Court Victory

On August 10, 2018, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a unanimous decision authored by the Honorable Diane Wood rendered an important victory to the plaintiff in a wrongful death in custody case brought by the People’s Law Office. Not only was the case remanded for a new trial, but in a precedent-setting portion of the decision those responsible for the safety and welfare of pretrial detainees will be held to a higher standard of care requiring them to reasonably protect and provide adequate medical care to those in their custody.

Lyvita Gomes, died in Lake County JailIn late 2011, Lyvita Gomes, an Indian national, was taken to Lake County Jail for not having appeared for jury duty, even though her immigration status made her ineligible for jury duty. She told the arresting officer she was not well and when she got to the jail, she told her jailers she was not going to eat until she got home. She was placed on suicide watch and for the next 15 days, she didn’t eat or drink, and she barely spoke.

 

During those 15 days, the Correct Care Solutions private contractor personnel at the jail watched her as she wasted away, losing weight, becoming dehydrated, unstable on her feet and then immobile. No one intervened to assist her or provide her necessary mental and physical healthcare. The jail psychiatrist diagnosed her with Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and reported:

It is obvious that patient is in a psychotic state of mind, whereby her judgment is   impaired. Her responses are not based on reality. She is deemed clinically incompetent to participate in her treatment plan. Patient does not understand the risks of not having adequate nourishment. She is likely to jeopardize her physical well-being by her actions.

He took no action other than warn her she could die. The internist, rebuffing nursing reports that she was deteriorating, did nothing except tell the nurses to continue monitoring her and keep warning a nonresponsive Ms. Gomes that she could die.

On the 15th day, another internist saw her, and shocked that she had been allowed to lapse into a state of severe dehydration and multiple organ failure, called an ambulance to rush her to hospital. At the same time, jail personnel finally went in to court seeking a bond reduction and she was technically released from custody. Tragically, it was too late to save her life and days after her arrival at hospital, Lyvita Gomes died as a result of complications of starvation and dehydration.

At the 2016 trial, Lyvita Gomes’ sister and brother-in-law traveled from London, England to testify and the Estate was represented by a community member who was called into service as a result of outrage in the immigrant and Latinx communities of Waukegan over the death of a woman in the custody of the Lake County Jail. The trial court refused to allow the jury to consider whether the psychiatrist and internist caused her death and whether they failed to protect her from herself. The jury awarded damages of $119,000 against a jail social worker for the pain and suffering endured by Lyvita Gomes over the 15 days on incarceration. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold the psychiatrist and internist liable for Lyvita Gomes’ death, and remanded the case back to the trial court to give her Estate the opportunity to have a jury consider their liability and provide damages for her death, on constitutional theories as well as medical malpractice.

In the decision that changed the analysis of constitutional claims brought by pretrial detainees, the appellate court ruled that the standard of proof for denial of adequate medical care and failure to protect claims  is now and in the future will be “objectively reasonable” and not “deliberate indifference,” holding that the lower standard set forth in  Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466 (2015) applies in this Circuit.

For more information:
Read the Gomes 7th Circuit Opinion

Coverage of the Decision by Courthouse News Service

Our office’swork on jail death cases

Debbie Africa of the MOVE 9 Released from Prison After 40 Years

Debbie Africa of the MOVE 9 Released from Prison after 40 Years

Debbie Africa, with her lawyer Brad Thomson (left) and her son Mike Africa Jr. (right)

Debbie Africa, with her lawyer Brad Thomson (left) and her son Mike Africa Jr. (right)

On Saturday, June 16, Debbie Africa of the MOVE 9 was released from Pennsylvania state prison. Debbie was granted parole after spending 39 years, 10 months in prison.

Debbie was imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following an altercation between the Philadelphia police and the MOVE Organization. Debbie was one of 9 MOVE members, collectively known as the “MOVE 9,” who were convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison following the 1978 altercation, despite evidence that exonerated them.

Debbie was eight months pregnant at the time of the 1978 incident and gave birth in jail to her son, Mike Africa Jr. (pictured above). Debbie has been incarcerated for Mike’s entire life and the two spent time together outside of prison for the first time following Debbie’s release.

People’s Law Office attorney Brad Thomson, along with lawyers from Abolitionist Law Center in Pennsylvania, represented Debbie in her application for parole. Unfortunately, Janet Africa and Janine Africa, two other members of the MOVE 9, were eligible for parole at the same time as Debbie and we denied.

MOVE is a Philadelphia-based radical, Black-led liberation organization opposed to environmental destruction and state violence. On May 13, 1985, seven years after the arrest of the MOVE 9, the Philadelphia police infamously dropped a firebomb on the MOVE home, killing 11 people, including 5 children and allowing over 60 homes to burn to the ground.

Debbie Africa with her attorney Brad Thomson, of People's Law Office

Debbie Africa after her release from prison, with Brad Thomson, one of her attorneys.

For more information, see:
The website for the MOVE Organization

“This is Huge”: Black Liberationist Speaks out After Her 40 Years in Prison – The Guardian

After 40 Years, First of MOVE 9 Granted Parole, Others Denied – Philadelphia Inquirer

MOVE 9 Member Debbie Africa Released From Prison After 39 Years – Philadelphia Magazine

Attorney Faults Parole Process for MOVE Members Still Jailed – AP Story on ABC News

After 40 Years, Debbie Africa of MOVE 9 Released From Prison – WHYY

MOVE’s Debbie Africa Speaks – Philadelphia Tribune

Baby-Snatching Practice Blocked Motherhood for 20-Million Seconds – This Can’t Be Happening

One MOVE 9 Member Gets Parole After 40 Years – Metro

Coming Home – Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against CPD’s Gang Database

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 19, 2018

Contact: Jessey Neves, 562-453-6342, Jessey.Neves [at] macarthurjustice.org

Tania Unzueta, 773-387-3186, tania [at] mijente.net

Community-Driven Federal Class Action Lawsuit & Report Targets Chicago Police’s Inaccurate, Racially Discriminatory Gang Database

At least 195,000 individuals – 95% Black and Latinx – are listed in an error-filled database from which their names can never be removed.

Chicago – The Chicagoans for an End to the Gang Database, a coalition of individuals and community organizations, gathered in City Hall on Tuesday to announce a new federal class action against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department (CPD), targeting CPD’s unconstitutional Gang Database, and urging City Council to take action.

The suit was filed on behalf of four individual plaintiffs, three Black and one Latino. Each plaintiff was falsely identified as a gang member and has since been subjected to irreparable harm and harassment because of the wrongful designation.

“I came up in the streets and have worked hard to create a positive life for myself. I never joined a gang and I focused on getting my education. I want to help other young people do the same thing. That’s my calling and my mission in life. But because I’m a young Black man, CPD slapped a gang label on me. Now I can’t get my dream job. I’m filing this lawsuit to clear my name and to help other people whose lives are destroyed because of the lies CPD tells through the gang database,” said Donta Lucas, a Plaintiff in the suit.

“The Chicago Police Department documented me as a gang member when I was just 14,” said Lawrence Vaile, another class member. “The police would stop me and ask me what gang I’m in, they would slap me for lying to them, because the computer shows them I’m in the gang. This put me in danger from the cops and from the streets.”

Also joining the lawsuit are a number of community-based organizations with deep roots in Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities, including Black Youth Project 100- Chicago, Blocks Together, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Latino Union, Mijente, and Organized Communities Against Deportation (OCAD).

“As long as the Gang Database continues to indiscriminately add Latinx and Black Chicagoans to their list, Mayor Emanuel cannot call Chicago a Sanctuary City. Making Chicago safe for immigrants starts today with making sure that the gang database stops being a list of people for ICE to pick up during immigration raids,” said Tania Unzueta, Policy Director for Mijente and one of the organizational plaintiffs.

The lawsuit notes that CPD has not developed any consistent guidelines on inclusion in the Gang database, such as information on an individual’s criminal conduct or active gang activity. Instead, CPD officers have unlimited discretion to add names to the list.

“CPD has long been on notice that the Gang Database discriminates against Black and Brown Chicagoans and violates people’s constitutional rights by creating barriers to employment and immigration relief, subjecting people to unlawful detention and searches and seizures and constant police harassment and surveillance. The gang database is riddled with inaccuracies and serves no legitimate law enforcement purpose—all it does is further institutionalize CPD’s well documented policy and practice of racial profiling.” Said Vanessa del Valle, counsel for the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The CPD confirmed that, as of May 2018, the Gang Database lists more than 128,000 adults. Although data on juveniles was not released, a new report from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Policing in Chicago Research Group estimates that the total number is closer to 195,000. Of those, 95% are Black or Latinx.

In addition to using the database to harass and falsely detain people, CPD provides its incorrect, inconsistent database to third parties. This shared, inaccurate information triggers further repercussions that can include job loss, denial of access to public housing and public education, inability to secure certain licensures, ineligibility for bond, and denial of immigration relief.

“Despite condemnation from local, national and international organizations the Chicago Police Department, in coordination with ICE and elected officials, continues to use the gang database as a tool to brutalize, surveil, and harass Black and Brown communities. This database hasn’t led to positive change for the Chicago communities directly impacted. Our tax dollars should not be spent on instruments of racism, or on tools that criminalize and scapegoat people of color.  Chicago’s so-called problem with violence is rooted in Chicago’s problem with racism and inequality.  Our resources should be used on the tools, projects and initiatives that enhance our communities, bring ordinary people together, and allow us to prosper”, said Todd St Hill, Member of BYP100.

The lawsuit was filed today in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and alleges multiple violations of due process protections under the U.S. Constitution. The suit also alleges that the manner in which CPD gathers and disseminates false information about gang membership violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act, which prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination. Defendants include the City of Chicago, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, and several officers within the Chicago Police Department. Additional attorneys for class include Elizabeth A. Homsy of the Law Office of Elizabeth A. Homsy, Sheila Bedi of the MacArthur Justice Center Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Brendan Shiller, Chris Bergin, Tia Haywood of Shiller Preyar, LLC. and Joey Mogul of the People’s Law Office.

MEDIA RELEASE: MOVE Member Debbie Africa Released on Parole After Over 39 Years in Prison

MEDIA RELEASE: MOVE Member Debbie Africa Released on Parole After Over 39 Years in Prison

Debbie Africa and her son Mike Africa, Jr.

Debbie Africa and her son Mike Africa, Jr. after Debbie’s release from prison

June 18, 2018: On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at 10 a.m., MOVE member Debbie Africa will make her first public appearance since being released from prison after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. On Saturday, June 16, Debbie was released on parole from State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cambridge Springs. Debbie will be speaking at a press conference that will be held at Faith Immanuel Lutheran Church, at 65 Penn Blvd. in East Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. Other speakers will include Debbie’s son Mike Africa Jr. and Brad Thomson, one of Debbie’s attorneys.

Debbie said, “I am happy to finally be home with my family, but Janet, Janine and the rest of the MOVE 9 are still in prison, in the same situation that I was in, and they deserve parole too.”

Debbie was imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following an altercation between the Philadelphia police and the MOVE Organization. Debbie was one of 9 MOVE members, collectively known as the “MOVE 9,” who were convicted and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison following the altercation.

Debbie was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident and gave birth in jail to her son, Mike Africa Jr. Debbie has been incarcerated for Mike’s entire life and the two spent time together outside of prison for the first time on Saturday, following Debbie’s release.

“After being born in jail and never being with my mom or dad, I’m happy to be with my mom at home for the first time ever in almost forty years. But my family is still incomplete because my dad is still in prison. Forty years of separation is not over for our family,” said Mike Africa, Jr. His father, Mike Africa Sr. is also one of the MOVE 9 and still in prison. Mike Sr. is scheduled to next appear before the parole board this upcoming September.

Janet Africa and Janine Africa, also of the MOVE 9, were denied parole after appearing before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (PBPP) on the same day as Debbie. Debbie is the first member of the MOVE 9 to be granted parole. The surviving members of the MOVE 9 have been eligible for parole since 2008 and have each been denied parole when previously appearing before the PBPP.

One of Debbie’s lawyers, Bret Grote, of Abolitionist Law Center, stated, “This historic release of Debbie Africa renders the Parole Board’s decision to deny Janet and Janine all the more incomprehensible, as each has maintained DOC records that are as exemplary and essentially identical to that of Debbie.”

Debbie had not had a misconduct for violating prison rules since 1992. She also received the recommendation of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as recommendations from Corrections expert and former DOC Secretary Martin Horn, and Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Janet and Janine also received the support of the DOC, Martin Horn, and the District Attorney’s Office.

In letters written to Leo Dunn, the Chairman of the PBPP, Carolyn Engel Temin, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office First Assistant, wrote on behalf of District Attorney Larry Krasner that she was “confident” that Janet and Janine “will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community” and that their “continued incarceration does not make our city safer.” In spite of these letters, the PBPP cited the “negative recommendation of the prosecuting attorney” as a basis for denial.

Brad Thomson, of the People’s Law Office, who is also a lawyer for Debbie, Janet, and Janine stated: “It is shocking that Janet and Janine were denied parole. Their circumstances and institutional records are nearly identical to Debbie’s. The decision to deny Janet and Janine appears arbitrary and it is difficult to understand how the Parole Board could justify it based on the facts that were presented.”

“The Parole Board has the opportunity to correct its mistake regarding Janet and Janine, stop playing politics with parole determinations for the MOVE 9, and release our clients,” said attorney Bret Grote. “If they do not take the chance to do the right thing, however, we fully intend to vindicate our clients’ rights and keep fighting until they join Debbie.”

In addition to Janet, Janine and Mike Sr., three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, while two others died in custody. During the August 8, 1978 altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and following a highly politicized trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third degree homicide. The six surviving members of the MOVE 9 who are still incarcerated are serving sentences of 30-100 are all eligible for parole.

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EDITORIAL: Lessons of the Jackie Wilson Murder Trial Saga

EDITORIALS: Lessons of the Jackie Wilson Murder Trial Saga
By: Chicago Sun-Times Editorials

We are disgusted, too.

A judge on Thursday ordered a new trial for a convicted cop killer, Jackie Wilson, ruling that his two previous trials were unfair because a key piece of evidence against him was extracted through police torture.

We, like so many Chicagoans, are disgusted that almost 40 years after two honorable police officers were killed, their families have not been granted the small peace that might come with an end to this judicial farce.

But we also know the judge was doing his job — and doing it right.

The blame for this endless travesty lies not with the judge, or with Wilson’s defense attorneys. The blame lies with a crew of rogue officers who once had so little respect for our criminal justice system that they beat confessions out of suspects. Now those bad confessions, transparently worthless, continue to haunt.

The simple hard truth is that Jackie Wilson, whatever the character of the man, has yet to receive a fully fair trial. And our disgust is with the original sin of police torture.

EDITORIAL

As Cook County Circuit Court Judge William Hooks thoroughly documented in a 119-page opinion, former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his associates at the time of the slayings routinely tortured African-American men to get confessions, including Wilson.

To read the rest of the editorial, click here.