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Thursday
Sep292011

Women bring class action lawsuit for practice of male guards' viewing and videotaping strip searches of female inmates

On September 15, 2011, the firm filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of two former inmates at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center (“Chicopee Jail”), alleging that since the Jail opened in 2007, male correctional officers have been routinely videotaping female inmates’ naked bodies while the women are strip searched. The lawsuit alleges that this practice is degrading and unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs Debra Baggett and April Marlborough filed suit on behalf of the hundreds of women affected by the practice against Hampden County Sheriff Michael J. Ashe, Jr. and Assistant Superintendent Patricia Murphy. They designed and implemented the Jail’s strip search policy and they permitted males to routinely view and videotape naked female inmates. When women are moved to the Segregation Unit for mental health or disciplinary reasons, they are strip searched. With four or more officers present, the inmate must: take off all her clothes, lift her breasts and, if large, her stomach, turn around, bend over, spread her buttocks with her hands and cough, and stand up and face the wall. If the woman is menstruating, she must remove her tampon or pad and hand it to a guard. An officer with a video camera stands a few feet away and records the entire strip search. This officer is almost always male.

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Thursday
Sep292011

Justice in New Orleans

Five current and former New Orleans police officers were convicted on August 5, 2011, of civil rights violations for unlawfully shooting and killing two people, wounding four other people, then covering up their conduct by bringing false criminal charges and lying to the FBI. Four of the officers shot at unarmed innocent people on the Danziger Bridge in September of 2005, five days after the horror of Katrina. The fifth officer helped them cover up their conduct, rewriting reports to explain why the victims had no weapons. Six years later, they have been held accountable for their conduct. This result was not certain; these officers almost got away with their crimes.

In September 2007, I was in New Orleans. My friend Mary Howell, a civil rights lawyer there, invited me to watch a motion in the state murder prosecution against four New Orleans police officers for their conduct on the Danziger Bridge that day. A young state prosecutor was arguing a motion. The police officers were free on bail, sitting in sport jackets with their criminal defense lawyers. The officers were leaning back in their chairs and laughing. That’s right, police officers charged with murder were laughing in court. The judge had to remind them that they were facing serious charges and laughing was not appropriate.

The police officers had reason to laugh; everyone in the courtroom knew that they would not be convicted in that Louisiana state court. It was not a surprise when in August 2008, a state court judge dismissed the murder charges. The case was dismissed because the prosecution had improperly disclosed grand jury testimony. The officers were free from charges for almost two years, then, in July 2010, they were indicted in federal court by lawyers from the Justice Department’s civil rights division.      

In September 2010, I was back in New Orleans and the officers were back in court facing criminal charges.

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Thursday
Sep292011

Westport police officer settles false arrest and excessive force lawsuit

Westport police officer Francis Napert 3rd settled a civil rights suit filed against him one month ago with a payment of $50,350.00. Carl Conforti filed a civil rights lawsuit in United States District Court in Boston on June 28, 2011, alleging Napert falsely arrested him and used excessive force during the arrest.

Mr. Conforti was arrested by off-duty officer Napert when he was assisting his handicapped sister and brother-in-law by collecting wood to heat their home. Napert, who was not on duty or in uniform, arrested Conforti for larceny of wood, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, and cited him for failure to stay within the marked lanes.   

At end of the criminal trial Mr. Conforti was found not guilty of all charges. The judge said, “I have absolutely no doubt, not guilty on all the criminal charges and not responsible on the civil infraction.” At trial, Napert testified that he was not aware of a Town Regulation defining tree limbs as debris or trash and after 23 years on the Westport Police Department he testified under oath that he was not familiar with the Police Department’s Policies Manual. 

On Jan 30, 2010, Conforti traveled to Westport to help his sister, who is confined to a wheelchair. Conforti made arrangements with his sister’s neighbor to collect fallen branches from the neighbor’s yard, in order to heat his sister’s home. As Conforti drove through his sister’s neighborhood, he was followed and then confronted by Napert, who was off-duty, in civilian clothing and driving his personal vehicle. When Conforti requested to see a badge and photo identification to verify that Napert was an officer, Napert refused, became agitated, and began swearing at Conforti.

Officer Napert allegedly used unreasonable force when he used his hands and knees to force Conforti’s chest to the ground, and broke Conforti’s eyeglasses. Witnesses heard Conforti, a cancer survivor who had tracheal resection surgery, plead for help because he had wires in his chest and he had trouble breathing.

The civil lawsuit, brought by the Law Offices of Howard Friedman, sought money damages for violations of Conforti’s federal and state civil rights. The case settled before trial. Conforti is represented by Boston attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton of the Law Offices of Howard Friedman, P.C.

Thursday
Sep292011

The right to videotape police

On June 8, 2011, attorney David Milton argued in the federal appeals court in Boston that the First Amendment protects the right to videotape police officers making an arrest on Boston Common. The case is brought on behalf of Simon Glik, who was arrested and charged with illegal wiretapping for openly using his cell phone to record what he believed to be police brutality by the Boston police. After the criminal charges were dismissed, the firm brought a lawsuit with the ACLU of Massachusetts arguing that the arrest violated Mr. Glik’s clearly established constitutional rights. Read more here, here, and here.

The Center for Constitutional Rights submitted an amicus brief, which you can read here.

Thursday
Sep292011

Selected News and Events from 1980's to July 2011

National and local news media frequently report on cases handled by Howard Friedman. They also call on the firm for commentary on and analysis of civil rights, civil liberties, and constitutional issues. Here are some articles and events from over the past several decades.

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