Federal Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Activist Who Was Assaulted and Arrested at North Versailles

May 8, 2019
PITTSBURGH, PA (May 8, 2019) – The Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien is filing a federal lawsuit against Christopher Kelly (“Kelly”) and Phoenix Theatres Entertainment, LLC (“Phoenix Theatres”) for assaulting and arresting Melanie Carter for recording Kelly—a police officer for the North Versailles Police Department, who was in full uniform at the time of the incident—with her cell phone. The Abolitionist Law Center has also joined as co-counsel. Ms. Carter began recording an incident at Phoenix Theatres where its employees, along with Kelly, were targeting a group of young African American children at Phoenix Stadium 18 at 1701 Lincoln Highway, North Versailles, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania 15137. Ms. Carter filmed the episode because she thought the young African American children were being treated unfairly because of their race after she witnessed Kelly and Phoenix Theatres forcibly remove some of the young children from Phoenix Stadium 18 and overheard them calling the girls “animals.”

Because Ms. Carter recorded the incident, Kelly arrested her by using his larger size to throw her to the concrete, push his body weight into her back with his knee, and shove her face into the concrete multiple times. The next day, Kelly charged Ms. Carter for numerous false criminal charges. All the criminal charges were dismissed at various stages of the criminal process prior to a criminal trial through the assistance of Bret Grote, Esquire and Quinn Cozzens, Esquire of the Abolitionist Law Center. “Ms. Carter—like any other member of the public—has a constitutional right to record police officers conducting official police activity,” said Alec B. Wright, Esquire. “If and when police officers like Christopher Kelly retaliate against members of the public like Carter for recording their activities, then they must be held accountable. That is what this lawsuit seeks to accomplish.”

According to Timothy P. O’Brien, Esquire, “Ms. Carter exercised her right of free speech and did the right thing by recording an abusive police officer. For that, she was violently attacked and falsely arrested and charged for crimes she did not commit. This lawsuit stands up for Ms. Carter and for every other citizen who may speak freely without fear of retaliation. We need more citizens like Ms. Carter and fewer police officers like Christopher Kelly who willingly abuse the powers that we entrust to them.”

Press Contact :
The Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien will be holding interviews on Wednesday, May 9, 2019 at The Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien to discuss this important case. Attorney Wright may be reached at (412) 260-1662 or abw@obrienlawpgh.com.  Attorney Bret Grote may be reached at bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org

Wear Your Support for ALC !!!

The Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) is proud to announce we have merchandise!!!! Many of you have asked for innovative ways to support us, as we near our sixth year of existence. So, we have partnered with a local vendor to bring you a wide array of clothing options to allow you to wear your support for ALC whenever you can.

The online store is only available until the 8th of May so make your purchase today. As always, thank you for your support. #ALC #abolitionnow #wearyoursupport #somethingnew #merch ONLY available til May 8, 2019.

ACTION ALERT: HEARING SCHEDULED FOR LEGAL MAIL INJUNCTION

The preliminary injunction hearing in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, challenging the PA Department of Corrections new legal mail policy, which involves the photocopying of all attorney-client mail, will begin this Tuesday, February 19 and last through the following Tuesday, February 26.

Plaintiffs are the PA Institutional Law Project, Amistad Law Project, ACLU of PA, Abolitionist Law Center, and Davon Hayes. The hearing seek to compel an injunction of the current legal policy that has essentially prevented attorneys from communicating with their clients.

The hearing is open to the public and is in Judge Jones’s courtroom.

Please be advised, while this hearing is open to the public, there are limited seats available, and communication devices are prohibited during court. 
Additionally, any disruptions or outbursts will not be tolerated during the sessions.

When the government insists that we go along with constitutional violations so they can fight a drug war we have to just say no. Next week we will be in court fighting to take those rights back. ~Bret Grote

Media Alert: Community Pre-Trial Press Conference for Blak Rapp Madusa on January 10 to Highlight the Disparities and Injustices Facing Black Women and Girls.

 

For Immediate Release

January 08, 2019

(Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Over the last couple of weeks, the national discourse has been on highlighting the realities that Black Women face. From #survivingrkelly to #jasminebarnes to #metoo,Black women have asked the community at large to stand up and protect Black women and that discourse is true right here in Allegheny County from #JadeMartin to the women incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail.

But what happens when one protects or tries to defend Black women? Well, if you are Blak Rapp Madusa (Melanie Carter), you get violently taken to the ground and arrested for standing up for black girls. In a viral video,  Blak Rapp intervened on behalf of young Black teen girls who were being violently removed by a local officer. After hearing the girls being dehumanized and called “animals”, Blak Rapp tried to intervene on their behalf. Blak Rapp stood up for Black girls and is now fighting for their freedom. Blak Rapp was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, defiant trespassing and failure to disperse even though the manager was fired, and the district attorney admitted the incident “does raise concerns.” These charges are indicative of the barrier’s individuals face while trying to protect Black women and girls from violence and injustice. Blak Rapp is being represented by the Abolitionist Law Center.

On January 10 at 9:30 AM BLAK RAPP MADUSA will go on trial at the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas with Judge Cashman presiding. Prior to the trial, a press conference is scheduled for 8:30 AM. Per Blak Rapp’s request (due to the violent threats they continue to receive), the press conference will not only include brief remarks about their case but also the plight of Black women and girls in Allegheny County. In highlighting the injustices facing Black Women and girls the press conference will include remarks from the following:

Blak Rapp Madusa: Survivor of violence, Community organizer and artist. Blak uses their talent to highlight injustices and inspire creativity.

Kelli Shaker: Survivor of violence and Founder of FroGang an organization that seeks to inspire and encourage young black girls to love themselves and accomplish their goals.

Jade Martin: Mother and survivor of violence. She made headlines last year after being assaulted in a pizzeria.

Brandi Fisher: President of the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA) is dedicated to criminal justice reconstruction and putting an end to police brutality and racial profiling through advocacy, education, and policy.

Nicky Jo Dawson: Community organizer and founder of BLAQK OPS an organization that seeks to empower and educate the local community on their history and their rights.

Miracle Jones: Director of Communications for the Abolitionist Law Center a Pittsburg based legal nonprofit that works to end mass incarceration.

Additionally, supporters of Blak RAPP will be wearing purple and red to show support as they go on trial and will be using the hashtags #JusticeforBlakRAPP, #protectblackwomen, #rehumanizeBlackwomen to show their support.

JUSTICE FOR BLAK RAPP
Thursday JANUARY 10, 2019
8:20 AM Press Conference
9:00 AM Pack the Court
Administrative Judge David Cashman’s room
308 Allegheny County Courthouse
436 Grant Street 15219

Press Contact:

Miracle Jones, Director of Communications, Abolitionist Law Center, Communications@alcenter.org.

Melanie Carter Habeas Corpus petition – Filed

Melanie Carter – Preliminary Hearing Transcript

Action Alert: A Message From Saleem

Greetings From Saleem!

Happy New Year !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hello Everyone,

As this year comes to a close, I want to first thank you so much for your support over the years. Your encouragement and dedication to justice is the reason why I am home today. After spending all of those years behind bars, I am finally home and still fighting for justice. It has been an amazing journey since my release this past February. For those of you who do not know, I took a position at the Abolitionist Law Center after my release. The Abolitionist Law Center is a Prison Litigation legal nonprofit that works to help individuals such as myself fight back against mass incarceration. It is my hope that my testimony will encourage you to become a monthly sustainers so the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) can continue to keep me on board to do the incredible work I have been doing this year.

Leading The Fight Against Death By Incarceration


The Abolitionist Law Center utilizes education and advocacy in order to further the prison abolition movement. Since coming home I have been at the forefront of ALC’s organizing. Being sentenced to life in prison or as we call it, death by incarceration, I know so many of the people languishing in Pennsylvania prisons, and I am committed to doing everything I can to bring our people home.  In June of this year, I was fortunate enough to sit on a panel at the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence here in Pittsburgh that ALC hosted. We had hundreds of people attend workshops and training sessions to better understand how environmental issues are associated with mass incarceration. I discussed the role of prisoners and families in creating the Human Rights Coalition in 2001 and how that has contributed to the work of prison abolition. For instance, ALC’s Legal Director Bret Grote started out as a HRC investigator.

ALC works closely with movement partners the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI). Formed in Philadelphia, at the urging of people serving life-without-parole sentences, CADBI has made impressive strides in its short existence. Since my release in February, my primary organizing has revolved around building CADBI chapters statewide and forming alliances with progressive movements across the state to pass legislation that would provide parole eligibility for lifers in Pennsylvania.
In addition to helping build and sustain CADBI chapters that have been started in Reading, York, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Delaware, and Chester County, I facilitated CADBI meetings and workshops for the families of the incarcerated. In early October, I worked with  CADBI to mobilize over 400 people (photos)  to rally in Harrisburg against DBI sentences by forging relationships with  Reclaim Philadelphia, ReHumanize International, and Lancaster Stands Up.

I am beyond fortunate to cross the state, building CADBI chapters and support for parole for lifers, and ultimately building a strong movement that will be able to roll back mass incarceration in the state of Pennsylvania. At the moment I am developing new CADBI chapters in Lancaster, York and Erie, Pennsylvania. In addition to organizing in Pennsylvania, my travels have extended to Denver, Buffalo and Washington DC representing the Abolitionist Law Center and CADBI to raise awareness about Death By Incarceration sentences and the need for the communities and people most impacted by these sentences to be at the forefront of fighting to abolish them.

Expanding Our Offices

I was able to officially return back home when the Abolitionist Law Center opened a satellite office in Philadelphia due to the high incidents of incarceration, legal caseloads and organizing in Philadelphia.  To better serve our community and to provide for more direct engagement, the office in Philadelphia also serves as a hub for community organizing and abolitionist work. I have the fortune of supervising legal interns as they learn about movement lawyering through a community lens. Additionally, the office became an organizing center when we all had to unexpectedly mobilize to fight against the inhumane mail policies that were introduced in the state prisons.  The office is a space for loved ones of the incarcerated to learn, to advocate, and organize for abolition.  Philadelphia has the largest population of those impacted by death incarceration sentences and PADOC policies.  I was sentenced to a death by incarceration sentence as a juvenile in Philadelphia, now I am leading the fight against it from our office because of supporters like yourself.

Leading The Fight Against Solitary Confinement

Working in community organizing, my new responsibilities include leading a statewide campaign the Abolitionist Law Center is spearheading to end long term solitary confinement. Working in partnership with the ACLU’s Unlock The Box Campaign to End Solitary Confinement, I am organizing family members of prisoners in solitary confinement and movement allies to force the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to end long term indefinite solitary confinement. This November, I facilitated a workshop at the Unlock The Box Conference in Baltimore on best practices to incorporate families and prisoners in the work to end solitary confinement. As a result of the conference the Abolitionist Law Center is now a national partnership with legal advocates across the country to end long term solitary confinement.

In October, the Human Rights Coalition staged an Art Against Abuse event in Philadelphia to highlight the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement. The event featured a one woman play by a formerly incarcerated Black woman who was held in solitary confinement. It was my distinct honor to serve as an organizer and cohost of the showcase which was inspired by my passion for the arts. The event was a success and dozens of people and organizations signed on to pledge to work towards abolishing long term solitary confinement in Pennsylvania.

What’s Next ?

I was recently promoted to Director of Community Organizing based on my knowledge and experience organizing directly impacted communities. My vision going forward is to build a movement to end mass incarceration that possesses teeth and a strong bite so that policy makers and politicians will take notice of the communities their laws have been devastating.  Help us accomplish this vision. I am asking that you please consider a monthly donation of between $25.00 and $50.00 to our sustainers fund so we can continue this great work.

In closing, thank you for your support. Happy New Year to you and yours.

In Solidarity,

Saleem

“Abolitionist Law Center registers with agencies in many states. Some of them will supply you with the financial and registration information they have on file. Residents of the following states may request information from the offices indicated (toll-free numbers are for use only within the respective states): Pennsylvania – Department of State, Bureau of Charitable Organizations, Harrisburg, PA 17120, 1-800-732-0999; Maryland – Office of the Secretary of State, Statehouse, Annapolis, MD 21401, 1-800-825-4510; New York – Office of Charities Registration, 162 Washington St., Albany, NY 12231; Virginia – Division of Consumer Affairs, P.O. Box 1163, Richmond, VA 23209, 1-800-552-9963; Washington – Office of the Secretary of State, Charitable Solicitation Division, Olympia, WA 98504, 1-800-332-4483. Registration with a state agency does not imply the state’s endorsement.”

Action Alert: Support the MOVE 9 Legal Fund!!!!

Help the Fight to Free MOVE Members
Who Have Been Wrongfully Incarcerated for 40 Years 

Please contribute to the MOVE 9 legal fund to continue the efforts to free all MOVE political prisoners. On June 16, 2018, Debbie Africa became the first member of the MOVE 9 to be released from prison when she was granted parole after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. Mike Africa, Debbie’s husband, became the next member of the MOVE 9 to get out of prison, when he was released on parole on October 23, 2018.

Lawyers from the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and People’s Law Office (PLO) represented both Debbie and Mike in their successful parole petitions and are committed to fighting for the release of the remaining MOVE 9.

There is a need for funds to support parole review and litigation, such as expert witnesses, travel for court dates and client visits, copy costs of prison and court records, postage and shipping, fees for court filings and other expenses that are likely to arise. (The attorneys are representing the MOVE 9 pro bono and this fund will only go to pay for out-of-pocket expenses.)

The MOVE members who are still in prison are all entitled to release on parole given their exemplary prison record, examples of mentorship, and the complete lack of any risk they present to public safety.

But it will take a fight to get them out – please contribute today* and help them win that fight.

Who are the MOVE 9?

The MOVE 9 are innocent men and women who have been unjustly imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following a massive police attack on their home in the Powelton Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. A Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed during the attack. Despite forensic evidence that the bullet that killed him did not come from inside the MOVE house, 9 MOVE members were convicted of 3rd Degree Murder and sentenced to 30-100 years in prison. This was seven years before the government dropped a bomb on MOVE in 1985, killing 11 people, including 5 children.

Two of the MOVE 9, Merle and Phil Africa, have died in DOC custody. There are now five surviving members of the MOVE 9 who are still in prison: Janet, Janine, Chuck, Eddie and Delbert.

MORE ON MOVE 

Background on Fight to Free Janet and Janine Africa:

In May of 2018, MOVE members Debbie, Janet and Janine Africa went before the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. Attorneys from ALC and PLO prepared packets in support of each of the three women. Debbie Africa was granted parole and released from State Correctional Institution (SCI) Cambridge Springs on June 16, after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration. Janet and Janine Africa, however, were denied parole despite having virtually identical Department of Corrections records as Debbie.

Jane and Janine both:

  • Have gone more than 20 years without a misconduct for any rule violation
  • Were recommended for parole by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections
  • Were recommended for parole by former PA DOC Secretary Martin Horn
  • Were recommended for parole by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

These factors demonstrate that Janet and Janine pose no threat to public safety and deserve parole.

The Parole Board has denied them the opportunity to return home based on unlawful factors. Claiming the two minimized the offense and did not express remorse, the Board ignored the only relevant assessment under Pennsylvania law: that the two do not present a threat to public safety.

The Parole Board also lied, claiming that Janet and Janine received the negative recommendation of the prosecuting attorney, when in truth Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Larry Krasner, recommended all three women – Debbie, Janet, and Janine – for parole. In a letter to parole to the Parole Board, Krasner’s office stated that it “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.”

Janet and Janine’s lawyers have challenged this unlawful determination, filing petitions for habeas corpus in federal court on October 1, 2018. The petitions argue that the Parole Board violated the constitutional rights of Janet and Janine by arbitrarily denying them parole without any rational basis.

The legal team at ALC and PLO is committed to freeing all MOVE political prisoners. This work includes challenging the erroneous denials for Janet and Janine and preparing packets for upcoming parole hearings – the next of which is Charles (Chuck) Africa, who will be going before the parole board in December of 2018, followed by Edward (Eddie) Africa in January of 2019. In addition, the lawyers are exploring all legal avenues that could potentially obtain release for the five surviving members of the MOVE 9.

Support Today!!!

 

*Please make sure you designate MOVE in the specific case or project section*

Media Release: Legal Advocates Challenge Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ New Procedures for Legal Mail

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 30, 2018

 

CONTACT: Andy Hoover, media@aclupa.org, 717-236-6827 x213

 

HARRISBURG— The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, the Abolitionist Law Center, Amistad Law Project, and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP filed two federal civil rights lawsuits today challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ (DOC) new policy of copying and retaining confidential mail from attorneys to their prisoner clients.  The lawsuits, one on behalf of the four organizations and a related one for a DOC prisoner, claim that the practice violates the First Amendment rights of the organizations’ attorneys and DOC prisoners to confidential legal communications.

 

The new policy follows a 12-day lockdown of all state prisons last month, which the DOC alleges was necessary to protect guards from “unknown substances” that have entered the facilities.

 

In an attempt to prevent these “unknown substances” from entering state prisons through the mail, DOC officials have been confiscating all incoming legal mail and holding it for 45 days, only allowing prisoners a photocopy of their correspondence. This policy interferes with the ability of prisoners and lawyers to discuss legal matters confidentially.

 

“No other corrections institution in the nation screens and duplicates legal mail in this way,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Attorney-client privilege is a cornerstone of legal representation. The Department of Corrections’ new mail policy undermines that privilege in violation of First Amendment protections for both the prisoners and their attorneys.”

 

The two lawsuits, which are separate but are likely to be consolidated, allege that DOC’s changes to processing legal mail are unwarranted and unnecessary because there’s no evidence that legal mail is a major source of illegal drugs.  The suits claim DOC’s new legal mail policy is an “exaggerated, irrational response to a non-problem that deprives Plaintiff legal organizations of an indispensable – and often the only viable — means of communicating with their imprisoned clients, thereby seriously undermining the lawyers’ ability to provide zealous and effective legal representation.”

 

“The DOC concocted an emergency and rolled out all of these policies at once while completely lacking any examples of drugs getting into PA prisons through attorneys and the mail we send to our imprisoned clients,” said Kris Henderson, legal director of Amistad Law Project.

 

The challenged policy is part of a number of new restrictions imposed by DOC on prisoners’ access to mail, visitors, and books and publications. Prisoners are not permitted to receive original copies of any mail and are currently prohibited from ordering books or publications.

 

“These post lockdown policies represent a devastating shift in Pennsylvania’s prisons,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney at Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “By interfering with legal mail, preventing people from holding onto cards and letters from loved ones and limiting their access to reading materials, the DOC has entered a new regime of isolation, further separating incarcerated people from meaningful access to the outside world.”

 

“These new policies, as well as the shock and awe manner in which they were implemented, now place the Pennsylvania DOC as the national vanguard when it comes to repressing the First Amendment rights of the incarcerated and their families, communities, and correspondents,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center.

 

“Attorneys are ethically required to keep communications with their clients confidential, and when that is threatened, they must act to prevent unauthorized access to those communications. Because of these requirements, and the new Pennsylvania policy on legal mail, public defenders, other attorneys and legal organizations have ceased communicating by mail with their incarcerated clients,” said Keith E. Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP. “This is a tremendous hardship and interferes with the attorney-client relationship.”

 

The lawsuits, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project v. Wetzel and Hayes v. Wetzel, were filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. The plaintiffs are represented by Sara Rose and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center; Deneekie Grant and Kris Henderson of the Amistad Law Project; Angus Love and Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project; and Danielle Bruno, Stephanie Short, Paul Titus, and Keith E. Whitson of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

 

The complaints are available at aclupa.org/PILP.

###

MEDIA RELEASE: MOVE 9 Member Mike Africa Released on Parole After 40 Years in Prison

October 23, 2018

Earlier today, MOVE member Mike Africa was released from prison after 40 years of incarceration. Mike was released on parole from SCI Phoenix in Skippak Township this morning.

Mike was imprisoned since August 8, 1978, following an altercation between the Philadelphia police and the MOVE Organization. Mike is 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.

Mike’s wife Debbie Africa was also one of the MOVE 9. Debbie was eight months pregnant at the time of the incident and gave birth in jail to their son, Mike Africa Jr. Mike Sr. has been incarcerated for his son’s entire life and today was the first opportunity for the father and son to spend time together outside of prison.

Mike Sr. and his wife Debbie maintained their relationship despite both being in incarcerated and separated from one other for 40 years. In June of this year, Debbie became the first member of the MOVE 9 to be released from prison. Today marks the first time that Mike Sr., Debbie and their son Mike Jr. have ever spent time all together.

 

“After being born in jail and never being with my parents, I’m happy to be with my mom and dad at home for the first time ever in forty years,” said Mike Africa, Jr. He continued “But this struggle isn’t over. There are still MOVE members behind bars who deserve to be reunited with their families and loved ones, just like my mom and dad can now be with me and the rest of their family.”

 

Mike Sr. has been eligible for parole since 2008 and went before the Pennsylvania Board or Probation and Parole (PBPP) for the tenth time in September of this year. Mike’s legal team submitted a packet in support of his parole petition, detailing Mike’s exemplary prison record, his educational accomplishments in prison and over 75 letters in support of parole. These included letters from religious leaders, retired DOC staff who knew him personally and former prisoners who described the positive influence Mike had on them. Mike also received recommendations for parole from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), Corrections expert and former DOC Secretary Martin Horn, and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

 

One of Mike’s lawyers, Brad Thomson, of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, said, “Mike’s record in prison was exceptional and demonstrated that he was an excellent candidate for parole. With this decision, the Parole Board recognizes that Mike, like Debbie, and the rest of the MOVE 9, poses absolutely no threat to the community.” Thomson went on to say, “This victory would not have been possible without the decades of organizing and advocacy spearheaded by the MOVE organization and their supporters.”

 

Bret Grote, of Abolitionist Law Center, another lawyer for the MOVE 9, stated, “This historic release of Mike Africa renders the Parole Board’s decision to deny the rest of the MOVE 9 all the more incomprehensible. For example, Janet and Janine Africa have both maintained DOC records that are as exemplary as Mike’s and essentially identical to that of Debbie, yet they were inexplicably denied parole this past May.” Grote and Thomson recently filed petitions for habeas corpus on behalf of Janet and Janine in federal court, challenging their parole denials.

 

In addition to Janet and Janine, three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated, as two (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. All five surviving members of the MOVE 9 (Janet, Janine, Chuck, Eddie and Delbert Africa) have been eligible for parole since 2008 and have been repeatedly denied parole when appearing before the PBPP.

 

During the August 8, 1978 altercation, a Philadelphia police officer was killed and following a highly politicized and controversial trial, the MOVE 9 were convicted of third-degree homicide. All nine were sentenced to 30-100 years in prison.

Contacts:

Brad Thomson, bradjaythomson[at]gmail.com ,773-297-9689

Mike Africa Jr., MikeAfricaJr@gmail.com,

 

 

Time to Fight Back: Statement from Legal Counsel in Support of Professor George Ciccariello-Maher

June 4, 2017: The Abolitionist Law Center, together with Eisner & Dictor, P.C. have been retained by tenured Professor George Ciccariello-Maher as legal counsel for the purpose of defending him from the ongoing efforts of reactionary forces to pressure Drexel University to unlawfully terminate him. Following months of concerted harassment of Professor Ciccariello-Maher and his employer, including numerous death threats against Ciccariello-Maher, Drexel University has caved into pressure and convened a so-called “Committee of Inquiry” to review unspecified “conduct” of the Professor in light of unspecified University “policies.” In doing so the University has intimated that the Committee may recommend termination of Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s employment.

As the Professor’s legal counsel we have notified Drexel University that any termination of his employment would be beyond the authority of this Committee as it has been constituted in violation of the University policy requiring that discipline or adverse action against tenured faculty must “be carried out under the standards approved by the American association of University Professors (AAUP).”[1] These standards are set forth in the AAUP’s Statement on Procedural Standards in Faculty Dismissal Proceedings[2] and its Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic Freedom and Tenure.[3] The Committee of Inquiry has not been formed and is not proceeding pursuant to these standards, and as such any adverse action against Professor Ciccariello-Maher would be patently unlawful.

To be clear: any adverse employment action taken against Professor Ciccariello-Maher in this matter will render the University liable for breach of contract.

Thus, we are demanding that Drexel University abide by its avowed commitment to academic freedom and cease the ominous and unjustifiable inquiry into his political speech and opinions. The mere formation of the Committee of Inquiry that is investigating Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s “conduct” to ascertain if any “policies” of the University have been violated represents a dangerous, chilling precedent for any academic whose opinions or modes of expression contravene political orthodoxies.

On Saturday, June 3, in response to a request that Professor Ciccariello-Maher address the Committee, we wrote the Committee and the Provost requesting information regarding the conduct being investigated, the policies at issue, and the AAUP standards being used. We informed the Committee of the following:

This is a very serious matter. In recent months, Professor Ciccariello-Maher has been the subject of a concerted attack by forces of right-wing revanchism, including hordes of neo-Nazis and white supremacists of the alt-right, Fox news, and Pennsylvania Republican Party State Senators. These forces are broadly aligned around a virulent and reactionary project of chauvinistic nationalism that is mobilizing racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic elements of society pursuant to a politics of scapegoating. Academic freedom and free speech are values to be protected with even greater vigilance in such an environment. This Committee must critically and fearlessly evaluate how Drexel University has allowed itself to be put in a position where it is enabling these forces. Anything less falls woefully far beneath the standards of academic freedom that are supposed to animate a democratic society.

We are heartened to see the emerging mobilization on behalf of Professor Ciccariello-Maher and look forward to working with his supporters and all the others who are mobilizing against the ceaseless rightwing attacks on public intellectuals who make principled and serious commitments to combating white supremacy, challenging police violence, struggling for social transformation, supporting movements for liberation, and fostering an ethic of solidarity. Make no mistake about it, Professor Ciccariello-Maher is being targeted because he has made such commitments, and we will diligently participate in the fight back on behalf of our client.

 

/s/ Bret Grote

Bret Grote, Esquire

Legal Director
Abolitionist Law Center

 

/s/ Benjamin N. Dictor

Benjamin N. Dictor, Esq.

Eisner & Dictor, P.C.

 

[1] Drexel University Tenure and Promotion Policy, § VII. Termination of Tenured Faculty.

[2] Accessible at: https://www.aaup.org/report/statement-procedural-standards-faculty-dismissal-proceedings.

[3] Accessible at: https://www.aaup.org/report/recommended-institutional-regulations-academic-freedom-and-tenure.

The Fight to Keep Mumia from Being Silenced

The trial for Abu-Jamal v. Kane happened on the same day that news of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s health crisis reached his supporters. This post provides a summary of both events, and includes links for further updates on efforts to defend Mumia’s life.


On March 30th, a trial was held in the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in the cases of Abu-Jamal v. Kane and Prison Legal News v. Kane, two lawsuits challenging the Silencing Act. The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Silencing Act, also known as 18 P.S. § 11.1304, last October. The law allows the Attorney General, county District Attorneys, and victims of personal injury crimes to bring lawsuits in civil court against “offenders” of a personal injury crime, in order to enjoin conduct that “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” Actions that could prompt a lawsuit include “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”

The law was passed in response to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s delivery of a pre-recorded commencement speech for students at Goddard College. Leading up to and in the wake of this speech, the Fraternal Order of Police, Governor Corbett, Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, and a number of legislators staged a media campaign designed to whip up a frenzy of support for depriving Abu-Jamal, and any other “offender,” of their constitutional right to free speech.

Two weeks after the bill was signed into law by former Governor Corbett, Abolitionist Law Center and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Prison Radio, the Human Rights Coalition, Robert Holbrook, Kerry Marshall, Donnell Palmer, Anthony Chance, and Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The lawsuit is seeking a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional and an injunction against its use by the Attorney General and the District Attorney for Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs in Abu-Jamal v. Kane filed a motion for preliminary injunction on the same day the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed Prison Legal News v. Kane, which was also seeking to overturn the law. Both cases were before Chief Judge Conner in late February for a hearing on defendants’ motion to dismiss. Judge Conner dismissed the claims against District Attorney Seth Williams from both lawsuits in a ruling on March 7th based on his explicit disavowal of enforcement, a promise to not bring a lawsuit under the Act, until there is a determination of its constitutionality. The District Attorney was a prominent supporter of the law prior to its passage by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The judge also ruled that the Plaintiffs in the two cases could proceed to trial on the claims against the Attorney General, and the trial was scheduled for March 30th.

Read the decision here – Abu-Jamal v. Kane motion to dismiss ruling

mumia_trial 043015 - joseph piette
The legal team and supporters after trial for Abu-Jamal v. Kane – photo by Joseph Piette

The trial on March 30th, approximately 5 months after Corbett signed this ill-fated bill into law, was “on the merits,” meaning that the judge will be making a final ruling on the constitutionality of the Act. Following the hearing, attorneys for the plaintiffs felt good about their chances for success. “Many court challenges on First Amendment grounds hinge on one basis for finding a law unconstitutional,” said ALC Legal Director Bret Grote. “However, the Silencing Act is plainly a violation of the First Amendment for several reasons, and we think we presented those reasons to the judge well.” We are hopeful that Chief Judge Conner’s ruling will be handed down in the next couple of months.

Read an article describing the trial arguments here — Pa. law sparked by Goddard alumnus under review

Almost immediately after conclusion of the trial, the positive atmosphere amongst the legal team and supporters was interrupted by the news that Mumia Abu-Jamal had lost consciousness and had been moved from SCI Mahanoy for emergency care at the nearby Schuylkill Medical Center. His blood sugar count was at 779: he was in diabetic shock. His sodium level was 160. Since January, Mumia has been suffering from a severe case of eczema that was reportedly treated with antibiotics and steroids, which caused an allergic reaction. His life threatening medical crisis continues and has now been labeled late-onset diabetes, which should have been identified and treated far earlier than it was.

Press conference on March 31st, with Mumia's family and supporters - Photo by David McKeown
Press conference on March 31st, with Mumia’s family and supporters – photo by David McKeown

Mumia’s supporters and family members, together with ALC attorneys, rushed to the hospital to intervene on his behalf, but were prevented from speaking with him and were denied any information about his condition for more than 24hrs. The prison did not notify Mumia’s attorneys or family members of his health emergency, and if not for the fact that supporters were at the prison that morning to visit with him, a visit that was denied because he’d been sent to the hospital, it would likely have been days before news of his condition reached his loved ones. The situation bears echos of the recent passing of political prisoner Phil Africa of the MOVE organization, whose condition was not shared with his relatives until the day before his death, the cause of which remains unknown.

Prison Radio is raising funds to pay for outside doctors to meet and consult with Mumia about his illness and treatment, in order to ensure that his life is not threatened again by the extreme lack of competence among medical staff within the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PADOC). We encourage everyone to please donate to the Indiegogo campaign, and to share it far and wide:

You can DONATE at this link.

Mumia’s supporters are also organizing to push the PADOC to allow outside medical care for Mumia, and are circulating a petition. Their most recent update makes clear that he is suffering and still at risk:

His blood sugar registered in the mid 200s today and continues to fluctuate, and although Mumia is still very weak, he was better than on Friday. He told us that the doctors gave him a double shot of insulin right before he came out for the visit, likely in an effort to make him appear temporarily more energetic than he is. This concerns us because insulin overdose is a possibility in these instances. Again Mumia has not yet been seen by a diabetes specialist, although the general practitioner told him today that perhaps he needs to see a nutritionist. This is a sign that our muckraking is working, since the news has gotten around that he was given spaghetti for lunch when his blood sugar registered at 336.

However, despite this modest progress Mumia  struggled to get out of his wheelchair so that we could take a photo of him. He remained in the wheelchair for the rest of the visit.

More updates can be found HERE and HERE.