Media Alert: Eddie Africa of the #MOVE9 is home after four decades of incarceration

June 21,2019

For Immediate Release 

(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office  are proud to announce that Eddie Africa, of the MOVE 9, has been released from state custody after more than forty years of incarceration. Earlier this morning, Eddie Africa was released from SCI Phoenix after being transferred from SCI Mahanoy, where he spent the majority of his incarceration. He has been fighting for parole for the last ten years. 

The MOVE 9 are 9 individuals who were incarcerated following an August 8, 1978 police siege of the MOVE Organization home in West Philadelphia. The MOVE 9 were all sentenced to 30-100 years after the death of an officer during the raid.

“Eddie’s release is a victory for him, his family and the movement that has been fighting for his freedom. This is the newest chapter in the decades-long struggle to free all the MOVE 9, which is a struggle that continues with the fight to free Delbert and Chuck Africa, who are both up for parole this year.” ~ Brad Thompson

Eddie is the fifth member of the MOVE 9 to be released on parole, all represented by lawyers from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office. Like Debbie , Janet, Janine, and Mike Africa, who were recently released, Eddie is now able to experience holding his loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades. Eddie was a father when he was arrested and has four adult children and several grandchildren who he has been able to maintain strong relationships with. Today is the first day his grandchildren will be able to hug him outside of a prison wall. The release of the Move members, after more than forty years, is the culmination of the MOVE organization, public support, legal action, and policy changes.

Two other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck and Delbert Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office represent Delbert and Chuck in the struggle for their freedom. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE9 Legal Fund.

Press Contact:

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

Bret Grote, bretgrote@abolitionistlawcenter.org

Media Alert: In Celebrating Juneteenth, We Must Remember Those Who Are Still Caged

The Abolitionist Law Center is honored to join in the celebration of Juneteenth. Juneteenth marks the ending of chattel slavery in the United States of America as it is commemorating when the last known individuals who were enslaved were notified of their freedom. Juneteenth is a momentous occasion to celebrate freedom and determination, but it is also a moment to pause to remember the thousands who are still enslaved today. After the civil war, the Black codes and vagrancy laws were passed to steal the freedom and protections away from Free Black folk. This resulted in what we know today as felony disenfranchisement.

Chain gangs and indentured servitude sentencing saw thousands of Newly Freed Black persons introduced into a new type of bondage made permissible by the exception clause of the 13th amendment.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

So as we celebrate the end of chattel slavery, we understand that the stain of the original sin has spread and permeated every fabric of our society. By some estimates, there are more Black people who are impacted by mass incarceration then under chattel slavery.

In Pennsylvania, the disparate racial impact is evident in the death by incarceration sentences all the way down to the pretrial resources. The legacy of slavery is kept alive through race and class-based incarceration as evidenced by the racial disparities in sentencing, arrests, and detainments are a continuation of enslavement practices. The slave patrols are now in charge of ensuring more people are cycled into the system. Today is Juneteenth. It also the anniversary of the murder of Antwon Rose II. None of us are free, until all of us are.

Media Release: Emergency Petition Filed For Young Woman Placed In Solitary Confinement During Her Birthday

On Monday the Abolitionist Law Center along with the law office of Timothy P. O’Brien and attorney Jules Lobel, filed an emergency petition against the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania to remove a young woman from solitary confinement housing after spending more than 70 days – including her birthday – in the restrictive housing unit at ACJ since February, resulting in severe mental health crises and three suicide attempts.

The ALC and co-counsel are representing Kimberly Andrews, a 20-year-old woman awaiting disposition on misdemeanor cases who has been in solitary confinement off and on since February of 2019, despite having known mental health issues. While at the ACJ, Ms. Andrews has tried to self-harm at least three times due to the decompensation associated with the placement in solitary confinement and harsh prison conditions within the restrictive housing unit. Ms. Andrews suffers from known mental health disorders including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder. Instead of receiving access to treatment and waiting for the adjudications of her case, Ms. Andrews has undergone repeated dehumanizing encounters with abusive ACJ staff.

For instance, on one occasion Ms. Andrews spent at least 8 consecutive hours in the restraint chair, strapped in so tight that it caused bruising around her wrists and shoulder areas. She was again deprived food, water, bathroom breaks, or any ability to move her limbs. Staff returned at one point to loosen the strap on her right wrist, as it was cutting into her flesh. Ms. Andrews asked for her inhaler, but her request was denied; no other medical checks were conducted.

 

The treatment of Ms. Andrews highlights the inability of the ACJ to create policies and procedures to ensure the safety and security of those incarcerated with medically diagnosed disorders. Ms. Andrews has been able to successfully interact in general population and was able to have a job when briefly removed from solitary confinement. Despite previous attempts to resolve this situation, Ms. Andrews remains in solitary confinement where she continues to struggle to acclimate based on her health history and continues to self-harm as a result.

 

She has been kept in solitary confinement for over 70 days by Defendants at the jail, although she has not been either charged with or convicted of any violent conduct by officials at the jail. She has a history of mental illness, which is greatly exacerbated by her placement and retention in isolation. She has attempted suicide three times since being placed in solitary confinement.

The petition is asking the court to grant Ms. Andrews as temporary restraining order which would prevent her from being placed in solitary confinement as well as prevent specific ACJ staff from contacting her due to their denial of medical treatment and triggering conduct. The ACJ spent more than $200,000 on bedding, replacing sheets with anti-suicide blankets due to the number of suicide and suicide attempts in the facility.

 

Andrews v. Harper – Complaint-As Filed

Brief in Support of TRO-as Filed

Motion for TRO-as Filed

Order to Show Cause-as Filed

Media Release: Janet and Janine Africa are paroled after forty years of incarceration!!!

The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office are proud to share that Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa of the MOVE 9 have been released from state custody after more than forty years of incarceration. Earlier this morning, the MOVE sisters were finally released on parole from SCI Cambridge Springs and are now with family and friends. The sisters have been battling for their freedom after being consistently denied parole for a decade despite an impeccable disciplinary record and extensive record of mentorship and community service during their time in prison.

Following their 2018 parole denial, attorneys from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office filed petitions for habeas corpus seeking their release from prison. The habeas petitions challenged their parole denials on the grounds that the decisions were arbitrary and lacking in any evidence that janet or Janine presented a risk to public safety. Under pressure from litigation and with a court date for May 28 looming, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (board) granted Janet and Janine parole on May 14, 2019, just one day after the anniversary of the notorious May 13, 1985 bombing of the MOVE home.

“The release of Janet and Janine is a victory not only for them and their loved ones, but also for the MOVE Organization and the movement to free all political prisoners,” said attorney Brad Thomson of People’s Law Office. “Janet and Janine were excellent candidates for parole. They have been described by DOC staff as model prisoners and neither of them has had a single disciplinary incident in over twenty years. While in prison, they have participated in community fundraisers, and social programs, including training service dogs. They are remarkable women to deserve to be free.”

Like Debbie and Mike Africa, who were released last year, Janet and Janine are now able to experience holding their loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades. The release of Janet and Janine after forty years is the culmination of the MOVE organization, public support, legal action, and policy changes.

Three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck, Delbert and Eddie Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office represent Chuck, Delbert and Eddie in the struggle for their freedom. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE9 Legal Fund.

Press Contact:

Mike Africa Jr.,MikeAfricaJr [at] gmail.com

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

 

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: Rally Against Family Separation in Allegheny County Criminal Courts

For Immediate Release
April 23, 2019

(Pittsburgh, PA) Rally to  support Joss Deuerling being permitted to seek treatment- not prison – and remain with her newborn baby

Speakers: Representative Summer Lee; Bethany Hallam, plus speakers from ALC, ACLU-PA, Let’s Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee, FAMM, SWOP Behind Bars, PA Institutional Law Project, and Americans for Prosperity.

A rally and press conference will be held on Friday, April 26 at 12:00 noon in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas to speak out against the criminal legal system’s role in separating families and punishing substance abuse disorder. #BringJossHome #TreatmentNotJail 

On February 5, 2019, 31-year-old Joss Deuerling – already a mother of three and 9 months pregnant – was taken to Allegheny County Jail because of a technical probation violation. She had tested positive on a random drug test.

Two days later she gave birth in West Penn Hospital without her partner or any family, not permitted to tell anybody where she was at or that she was in labor, and with an officer from the Sheriff’s Department insisting on staying in the room throughout her birth. She was told by the officer that her partner would be arrested if he tried to come to the hospital. The officers then deprived her of showers for two days after she gave birth and severely restricted the amount of time she was permitted to hold her newborn baby.

After spending the next 6 weeks in ACJ, separated from her 4 children and her partner for a technical violation caused by substance abuse disorder, a medical condition, Court of Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani has decided to revoke her probation and separate her from her family by sending her to state prison.

This is an injustice and we are calling on the community to rally in support of allowing Joss to remain with her family and seek the treatment she wants – and deserves – in her own community.

Relapse is a common part of recovery. Over the last three years Joss has been in treatment. She has been improving and wants to stay drug-free and with her family. A loving environment, family and community support is essential for successful recovery.

Substance abuse disorder should not be criminalized any longer, and the courts and other officials are called upon to handle these cases in therapeutic and medically appropriate ways.

Join us as we rally in support of Joss and her family, protest family separation, and advocate for treating substance abuse disorder as the medical condition it is.

Media Contact: 
Miracle Jones 
(She/Her/Hers)
412-346-6537 (Google voice)
Abolitionist Law Center 
communications@alcenter.org

Petition for Allowance of Appeal Filed on Behalf of Avis Lee to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

#FreeAvisLee

For Immediate Release

(Pittsburgh) In following the recommendations of the Superior Court, Attorneys on behalf of Avis Lee filed Petition for Allowance of Appeal  to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in order continue fighting for her freedom. Just after her eighteenth birthday, Avis was an accomplice to a robbery gone wrong that resulted in the death of another. As a result, she was given a mandatory life sentence as a result, even though she possessed no intent to murder and utilized subsequent remedial measures to help the victim.

The groundbreaking petition seeks to not only bring Avis home, but also create a framework for other young adults who are similarly situated to have a chance before the parole board to earn an opportunity at redemption. While mandatory life without parole (LWOP) or as we call it death by incarceration (DBI) continues to plague the Commonwealth.

… the questions presented challenge the constitutionality of the Commonwealth’s sentencing statute for second-degree murder, which violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as applied to Petitioner. Due to the weight of these considerations both individually and in combination, this Court should grant this Petition for Allowance of Appeal and address the questions presented for review herein.

We hope that our petition sets the ground work for a way out of the DBI sentencing structure as it has a disproportionate impact on Black defendants. Moreover, it ignores the rehabilitative impacts made by those who have spent decades behind bars.

Avis is a remarkable person who deserves to see her family and friends outside the confines of prison walls. We are simply asking for the right to have a judge evaluate evidence that demonstrates this, and determine for the first time whether she should spend the rest of her life in prison or have the opportunity to come home.~Quinn Cozzens, Abolitionist Law Center

In conjunction with said petition, The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Race and Social Problems filed an amicus brief in support of the petition relying on a multitude of arguments including how the construction and implementation of a right found by the Supreme Court of the United States should guide this case.

The Abolitionist Law Center represents Avis, along with Duquesne Law School Professor Tiffany Sizemore and University of Pittsburgh Law Professor Jules Lobel.

 


Press Contact:

Miracle Jones
(She/Her/Hers)
412-346-6537 (Google voice)
communications@alcenter.org

Media Release: Civil Rights Groups and PA Department of Corrections Near Settlement of Lawsuit Over Legal Mail

February 22, 2019

HARRISBURG – Lawyers for four civil rights organizations and one person who is currently incarcerated announced today that they are finalizing the details of a settlement of their lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ policy of copying and storing legal mail. The four organizations challenging the policy issued the following statement in response to the developments in the case:

“We appreciate that the department has agreed that, beginning April 6, they will stop copying and storing prisoners’ legal mail. The revised screening procedures will respect the rights of prisoners to confidential and privileged attorney-client communications without compromising the department’s efforts to prohibit drug use in the prisons.”

The organizational plaintiffs, Pennsylvania’s four largest prisoners’ rights groups, are the Abolitionist Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project (PILP). Volunteer attorneys from the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, led by partner Keith Whitson, are also representing the plaintiffs. PILP, et al. v. Wetzel was combined with another challenge, Hayes v. Wetzel, which was brought by Davon Hayes, who is a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon.

More information is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

Media Alert: Trial Begins in Challenge to State Prisons’ Legal Mail Policy

February 19, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

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

Miracle Jones, communications@alcenter.org, 412-346-6537

Rebecca Susman, rsusman@pailp.org, 412-434-6004

 

HARRISBURG – The trial in two lawsuits challenging the Pennsylvania state prison system’s policy of copying and storing mail between lawyers and their clients who are incarcerated began today in a federal courtroom in Harrisburg. The two lawsuits – one brought by four prisoners’ rights organizations and the other by a person who is incarcerated – ask the court to overturn the practice by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) as a violation of the confidentiality guaranteed between lawyers and their clients, as protected by the First Amendment.

 

The department altered its process for incoming legal mail last fall, triggering the lawsuits. Under the new practice, legal mail is opened in the presence of the intended recipient and copied. The prisoner is given the copy while the prison stores the original for at least 45 days.

 

“The right to confidentiality between a lawyer and their client is fundamental,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “The DOC has compromised that basic right with its policy.

 

“The bar for limiting First Amendment rights is extremely high, and the department has not met that standard. They’re not even close.”

 

The organizational plaintiffs in Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project, et al. v. Wetzel are the Abolitionist Law Center, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Amistad Law Project, and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. All of the organizations have stopped communicating by mail with people who are incarcerated, based on advice from legal ethicists. The organizations are also representing Davon Hayes, a prisoner at SCI-Smithfield in Huntingdon whose communication with his lawyers representing him in his federal appeal has been compromised.

 

“The DOC’s policy of photocopying and retaining legal mail is the only one of its kind in the country,” said Bret Grote, legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center. “It is a solution in search of a problem, and we intend to prove it utterly lacking in justification.”

 

The lawsuit is a first-of-its-kind civil rights challenge. The plaintiffs are not aware of any other state prison system that copies and stores legal mail in the same way. Federal district court Judge John E. Jones III is presiding over the trial.

 

“Our ability to send confidential mail is essential to our representation of people incarcerated throughout Pennsylvania,” said Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, staff attorney at the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project. “Our clients need to know that our discussions of sensitive matters such as medical care and sexual assault will not be compromised by the DOC.”

 

The legal mail policy is part of a broader set of changes to mail processing in Pennsylvania’s state prison system. The Department of Corrections now requires non-legal mail to be sent to a facility in Florida, where the mail is scanned and then emailed to the prison that houses the intended recipient.

 

The trial in the two cases is expected to last about a week. More information, including relevant legal documents, is available at aclupa.org/PILP.

 

###