MANHATTAN (CN) — Breathing new life into a nauseating lawsuit, the Second Circuit found Tuesday that even a brief incarceration at Brooklyn Central Booking could expose people to “alarming and appalling” civil rights violations.
As laid out in the lawsuit by 20 men and women who spent less than 24 hours in lockup, the cells of Brooklyn Central Booking were overcrowded between July 10, 2011, and July 23, 2013, strewn with everything from garbage to feces, maggots to vomit, urine to rotten milk.
“I believe if I were a dog, and that if the A.S.P.C.A. was brought in and there was a dog in that cell, that the police officers, whoever were responsible for the treatment of that dog in that cell, that they would be brought up on charges,” one of the plaintiffs, Raymond Tucker, has testified, according to Tuesday’s ruling.
Tucker and his co-plaintiffs — most of whom never faced prosecution after their arrest as first-time offenders — also reported infestations, extreme temperatures, poor ventilation and sleep-deprivation.
The Second Circuit unanimously revived their case Tuesday, faulting the lower court in Brooklyn for ruling “that no set of conditions, no matter how egregious, could state a due process violation if the conditions existed for no more than ten to twenty-four hours.”
Illustrating the “degrading, humiliating and emotionally scarring” environment, the 52-page opinion quotes one unidentified plaintiff who had a panic attack because of the “deplorable” toilet conditions.
“I tried holding my bowel for about four hours,” the plaintiff said. “I wasn’t able to use the bathroom or any form of the bathroom and I found it very hard to breathe. My chest was very heavy and I tried to alert the guard. One guard just walked by and when they were letting in more people I told the guard I have to go to the hospital. I’m having chest pains and it was maybe 30 minutes after that they took me to the medical cell.”
U.S. District Judge John Koetl penned Tuesday’s opinion, sitting on the panel by designation from New York’s Southern District.
Civil-rights attorney Rich Cardinale, who is leading the lawsuit, likened Brooklyn Central Booking’s cells to medieval dungeons.
“Much of the testimony was uncontroverted,” Cardinale said.
Since the lawsuit’s filing in 2013, a new Brooklyn Central Booking opened up across the street from the old site.
“I’m told that it’s become just as bad as the old one,” Cardinale said.
Cardinale’s clients are not seeking class certification, but the attorney said he hopes punitive damages will send a message to the city.
When U.S. District Judge William Kuntz II dismissed their lawsuit in 2015, he ruled that short stays in lockup did not threaten the detainees’ future health.
“Here, there is no evidence that a single plaintiff was detained at BCB for more than a 24 hour consecutive period,” the 32-page opinion states. “Moreover, there is no evidence that a single plaintiff was regularly denied any such toiletry during his or her stay at BCB or that the denial of any toiletry posed an unreasonable risk of damage to a plaintiff’s future health.”
A spokesman for the city said Kuntz had made the right call in granting their prior motion for summary judgment, but and that the city opened a new Brooklyn jail facility “years ago.”
“We are pleased that the court held that plaintiffs must still substantiate their allegations and that the trial court remains free to find for city after a fuller presentation of the evidence,” the spokesman added in an email.