Media Alert: All Charges Dropped Against Blak Rapp Madusa

The Abolitionist Law Center is proud to announce that all charges against Blak Rapp Madusa were dismissed on Thursday as our Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus was granted by Judge Cashman.

The courtroom was filled to capacity as Bret Grote and Quinn Cozzens presented arguments to the judge. Immediately prior to dismissing the charges, Judge Cashman called the incident leading to Blak Rapp’s arrest “unfortunate.” At issue was whether the testimony of North Versailles Township Police Officer Christopher Kelly was sufficient to require Blak Rapp to stand trial on the charges against her. This case stemmed from Blak Rapp’s arrest while filming the officer as he removed a group of black girls from a movie theatre and arcade. Blak Rapp was facing charges of disorderly conduct, trespass, and resisting arrest. The habeas corpus petition argued that even if all of Officer Kelly’s testimony was true, none of the conduct he described was criminal. The case brought up many issues for the community that centered on violence and the dehumanization of Black Women and girls. For many, this was a flagrant case of police abuse of power involving an officer arresting a person who was exercising their constitutional right to film the police.

 

The Habeas petition focused on the merits of the case and raised multiple arguments to prove that the sufficiency of the evidence failed to prove Blak Rapp was guilty on any charge. Judge Cashman agreed and granted the motion in full.

The community made its presence felt. They showed up for Madusa just as she showed up for the children who were being bullied and mistreated at that movie theater.As Madusa said afterward: “When we fight we win.” ~Attorney Bret Grote

This win is not only credited to the legal team of the Abolitionist Law Center but also to every community member and organizer that has stood with Blak Rapp Madusa since the onset of these charges. It has been almost a year since the filming of this incident, and since that time the national focus has began a conversation on the violence and plight of Black Women and Girls. We hope that this win not only encourages people to get involved in court watching programs but to also become aware of the violence that many in the community face.  Organizing and community support is vital to defending the rights and lives of Black women and girls and others who are targeted by oppressive policing practices.

 

“I didn’t know if I was going to survive that attack….but I knew that if I did, that it was my duty to say something about it, to use my platform as an artivist and an organizer and tell America to stop the violence against black women.” ~ Blak Rapp Madusa

 

Media Release: Prisoners File Lawsuit Against New Federal Facility on Toxic Strip Mine Site in Kentucky

For Immediate Release 11/27/18

Image of USP Letcher proximity to slurry and LCW old-growth biological research station managed by Eastern Kentucky University

Contacts:

Emily Posner, Attorney for Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, (207) 930-5232

Prisoners File Lawsuit Against New Federal Facility on Toxic Strip Mine Site in Kentucky

PICTURES AVAILABLE

Washington, DC — Lawyers with the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC) and have filed a federal environmental lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) representing prisoners from across the country who say they were not properly informed about $444 million dollar plans to construct a new federal prison on top of a former coal mine, next to an active mine and coal sludge pond, which could house them in the near future.

Twenty-one prisoners are listed as plaintiffs, along with the ALC. The complete court filing can be found here. Pictures from the lawsuit and the prison site here.

The lawsuit comes after more than three years of a controversial Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process conducted by the BOP and the consulting firm, Cardno. Public comments submitted by attorney Emily Posner in 2017 on behalf of the ALC can be found here.

The lawsuit states that federal prisoners should have been considered as parties with legally-required access to EIS documents, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EIS process outlines a wide range of social and environmental impacts, including potential health risks and alternatives to construction, which prisoners are uniquely situated to provide insight on and particularly vulnerable to the results stemming from the final EIS approval which occurred earlier this year.

The prisoners are asking the courts to halt progress on the plan until they have received access to documents for review and comment.

Map of active coal sites near USP Letcher proposal

One prisoner listed on the lawsuit, Manuel Gauna, stated: “I believe that construction of this particular prison is neglecting the people in Letcher and the people in the prison system. We as prisoners should have had the opportunity to participate in this public comment period for this project. Correctional officers are overworked at my facility [FCI Mendota]. I wish that the BOP would spend the money that it wants to use to build a new prison to properly staff this prison.”

Another prisoner named in the suit, Mark Jordan, currently at USP Tucson, explained, “Just last week President Trump publicly announced his support for the FIRST STEP Act, a reform bill aimed at reducing the federal prison population. The Letcher County project flies directly in the face of this reform narrative.”

Jordan continues, “Despite serious environmental and health hazards, the Justice Department solicited public comment from everyone except those most directly impacted by the project, the prisoners themselves. Health and safety issues aside, this is but a needless pork barrel project ushered through by Kentucky Representative Hal Rogers at a time when public opinion and policy-makers are trying to reduce the population of the federal prison system, not build more prisons merely for the sake of building more prisons.”

Prisoners aren’t the only ones concerned about the facility. Letcher County resident Elvenia Blair, who lives close the proposed prison, is also opposed to the plan.

Blair, who has been contesting the prison for several years, states that “Eastern Kentucky has the highest cancer rate in the nation. Forcing prisoners, correctional officers and their families to live, work and visit this environment is discrimination.”

Blair is also a board member of Friends of the Lilley Cornett Woods and North Fork Watershed, one of multiple local organizations which have expressed concerns about the impact of prison construction.

She continues, “With coal mining on its way out, the natural history of our mountains and wildlife is what we have left to attract people to the area. That will be disturbed with barbed wire, shooting ranges, heavy traffic flow of transporting prisoners. We won’t see economic growth from this.”

Emily Posner, Attorney for the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, also notes, “Federal legislation indicates a downward trend in prison population. My clients are in agreement with local residents who feel that there are much better ways to generate federal support in Appalachian communities than wasting hundreds of millions on an unnecessary prison.”

————

Abolitionist Law Center is a public interest law firm organized for the purpose of abolishing class and race based mass incarceration in the United States. ALC has participated in every NEPA public comment period related to BOP’s proposed prison in Letcher County, KY.

Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons conducts grassroots organizing, advocacy and direct action to challenge the prison system which puts prisoners at risk of dangerous environmental conditions, as well as impacting surrounding communities and ecosystems by their construction and operation.

Keep ALC in the Fight to End Mass Incarceration!

Abolitionist Law Center, our clients, and our supporters have made important strides in overturning laws aimed at censoring and silencing prisoners’ voices, in challenging decades-long solitary confinement, and in pushing for life-saving treatment for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Over the last few years, lawsuits filed by Abolitionist Law Center have:
  • Ended solitary confinement of pregnant women at the Allegheny County Jail
  • Won the first court order in the country forcing prison officials to provide new hepatitis C medications
  • Won release from decades-long solitary confinement for Russell Maroon Shoatz and Arthur Cetewayo Johnson
  • Overturned a statute that would have silenced prisoners and anyone who published the speech of prisoners
Your support makes it possible for us to win these fights. Please donate and together we can keep building the movement to abolish mass incarceration.

SUPPORTING THE MOVEMENT

Lauren, Shakaboona, Bret and Quinn
As a movement lawyering organization, our primary method for winning the abolition of mass incarceration is to amplify the voices of activists inside and outside the prison walls. We understand that social change is a political process and the most effective way to achieve deep and sustained improvements is through the organization and mobilization of communities. With this in mind, we have successfully fought to protect the rights of prisoners to engage in political speech and self-education, and we have successfully helped to push back on the overuse of solitary confinement (which is often used as retaliation for advocacy from within the prisons). We have also expanded our work to defend movement activists who are not incarcerated, such as Saundra Cole and George Ciccariello-Maher, against harassment from police and white supremacist individuals and hate groups.
Bret, Ghani, Sean, and Jamelia
With your support, we increased our efforts to ban Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, abolish long-term solitary confinement, and force prison administrators to provide curative treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C. We hired three new staff members  focused on these issues: Jamelia Morgan, Lauren Johnson and Quinn Cozzens (pictured above and right). We co-founded the western Pennsylvania chapter of the Coalition to Abolish Death By Incarceration (CADBI West),  and we increased collaboration with our friends at the Amistad Law Project.

ENDING SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Arthur Cetewayo Johnson and family
The Abolitionist Law Center’s work to abolish solitary confinement resulted in some important victories over the last year. At the beginning of this year Arthur Cetewayo Johnson walked out of his solitary confinement cell and into the general prison population following 36 years in solitary, after we won a preliminary injunction on his behalf (Johnson v. Wetzel). One of our lawsuits (Seitz v. Allegheny County) successfully stopped the Allegheny County Jail from putting pregnant women in solitary confinement. And we obtained the first circuit court holding in the country recognizing that solitary confinement of persons with serious mental illness states a claim under the Eighth Amendment (Palakovic v. Wetzel).
With the help of our new staff attorney, Jamelia Morgan, we are currently litigating three (soon to be four) cases challenging long-term solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row, which is being imposed on prisoners even though they have had their death sentences overturned. PA DOC contends that the mere possibility that these men may be re-sentenced to death after a new trial or sentencing hearing requires them to be held in solitary confinement. This is happening despite the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issuing a landmark decision earlier this year, which held that continued use of solitary confinement on Death Row of individuals who have obtained relief on their death sentence violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Williams v. Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, 848 F.3d 459 (3d Cir. 2017).

ABOLISHING DEATH BY INCARCERATION 

Charmaine and her mother Donna.
The Abolitionist Law Center is working actively to roll back race- and class-based mass incarceration through our ongoing decarceration efforts. As part of these effort, we’ve also been working to get people released from prison, including three clients who were 18 years old when the crimes they were convicted of occurred. All three of them were sentenced to Death By Incarceration (DBI), also known as life without parole, without any consideration given to mitigating circumstances (such as youth, intellectual disability, or lack of intent). Their youth raises the same issues of diminished culpability that the Supreme Court relied on in deciding Miller v. Alabama, which effectively ended DBI sentences for juveniles. State prosecutors and courts are trying to limit the holding to people who were under 18 years old, despite the fact that the same developmental science that the Supreme Court relied on in Miller shows that brain development continues well past the 18th birthday. Our cases seek to win the release Charmaine Pfender, Avis Lee, and Arthur Cetewayo Johnson, while establishing that the ruling in Miller v. Alabama applies to people who were over 18 years old when they committed or allegedly committed a crime.
In addition to working on the above cases, a report on DBI sentencing in Pennsylvania is being prepared by our new staff-member Quinn Cozzens. Research for this report is already being used to help support the work of movement activists pushing to abolish Death By Incarceration, and over the next few months we will be launching a program to assist the movement in lobbying for statutory changes to end all DBI sentences.

HEPATITIS C TREATMENT FOR PRISONERS

Mumia Abu-JamalAt the beginning of this year, we won an injunction forcing the PA DOC to provide treatment to Mumia Abu-Jamal using direct acting antiviral (DAA) medications to cure his hepatitis C infection. This was the first court order in the country requiring prison administrators to provide DAA medications to an incarcerated patient. Mumia announced that he was free of the hepatitis C virus at the end of May.
Late last year we started a new program to increase legal support for hepatitis C+ prisoners. Mumia’s case was an important initial victory, but we will be filing more cases before the end of the year seeking to force accountability on the PA DOC for refusing to provide the new curative treatments, and for the injuries and deaths caused by those failures.

Transforming this system and rolling back the mass incarceration state requires building mass popular movements. And people’s movements need movement lawyers. Please consider making a donation to our efforts today.

Keep ALC in the Fight to End Mass Incarceration!

alc_donate_header_mergedAbolitionist Law Center, our clients, and our supporters have made important strides in overturning laws aimed at silencing prisoners’ voices, in challenging long-term solitary confinement, and in pushing for life-saving treatment for hepatitis C+ prisoners. None of this would have been possible without the support of our donors, and so much more is possible with increased support. Please donate so we can keep fighting to abolish mass incarceration.
Our recent victories were more than just precedents and press. They contributed to the growing momentum of the Movement to End Mass Incarceration. Maroon’s public statement on the Settlement won in his case puts it best:

Maroon and Bret“Since joining the struggle for Human Rights in the mid 1960s, I have always chosen to fight! Frederick Douglass was right when he said ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand.’ So have no doubt that I see this Settlement as anything but the latest blow struck, and you rest assured that I will continue in the struggle for Human Rights. Straight Ahead!”

We plan on being right there beside Maroon in the struggle for Human Rights, and with your support we will continue to push “Straight Ahead!” But we need your help to do that, so please show your commitment to our work – and to abolition – by contributing today.

WE CONTINUE TO WORK ON SEVERAL IMPORTANT CASES:

PALAKOVIC v. WETZEL

Brandon PalakovicThis lawsuit against the DOC for repeatedly placing a mentally ill prisoner in solitary confinement, leading to his suicide, will be argued in the Third Circuit this winter, as we seek to reverse improper dismissal by the district court.

 

 

 

WALLACE v. FITZGERALD

AlleghenyCountyJail

This case against Allegheny County Jail officials and Corizon for starving a prisoner nearly to death, causing him to have a heart attack at the age of 28, reveals how decisions to cut costs in medical care of the incarcerated can have potentially lethal consequences.

 

 

 

 

HOLBROOK v. JELLEN

Nikki, Saleem, Kris and BretCase against the DOC for censoring the correspondence, communications, and written works of prisoner-activist Robert Saleem Holbrook. We are waiting for a decision on cross motions for summary judgement, but we already compelled the DOC to institute changes to its censorship policies, including providing due process for non-prisoners when their mail is intercepted by prison censors.

ABU-JAMAL v. KERESTES

Mumia Abu-JamalIn this case, suing the DOC to get Mumia Abu-Jamal life-saving treatment for his hepatitis C infection, the judge has already ruled that the DOC’s hepatitis C protocol is unconstitutional, though he has not yet granted the injunction ordering treatment for our client. We have several motions pending that can be ruled on any day in this groundbreaking case seeking to establish a right to a cure for incarcerated patients with chronic hepatitis C.

 

 


WE ARE ALSO DEVELOPING SEVERAL NEW PROJECTS:

THE HEPATITIS C PROJECT

Expanding litigation to win hepatitis C treatment for many prisoners by training a network of pro bono attorneys and connecting them with prisoner-plaintiffs.

SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Continuing to bring cases challenging and seeking to abolish the practice if keeping prisoners in long-term solitary confinement.

ENDING DEATH BY INCARCERATION

Increasing support to the movement to end Life Without Parole (LWOP), representing juvenile lifers during their re-sentencing and bringing cases on behalf of clients who were 18-years-old at the time of the offense giving rise to their mandatory LWOP sentence, arguing for reversal of their sentences.


Transforming this system and rolling back the mass incarceration state requires building mass popular movements. And people’s movements need movement lawyers. Please consider making a donation to our efforts today.