On December 18, the New York City Department of Investigation issued a decent report on the New York Police Department’s failed response to the George Floyd protests earlier in 2020. I didn’t expect this. Indeed, when Mayor Bill de Blasio designated the Department of Investigation (and the Corporation Counsel) to investigate police misconduct during these protests, I assumed – reasonably, I think – that these agencies would whitewash the police response; this was clearly what the Mayor had wanted. I was able to place an essay decrying the situation as an example of the continuing systemic failure to police the police in this City.
No other expressions of frustration by me can do better than the DOI Report, but one can throw in the Mayor’s self-serving, insincere, pre-recorded YouTube response, linked below. Listen to his false, measured tone when he defends the NYPD on his weekly radio interview on The Brian Lehrer Radio Hour.
The DOI report came in time to remind the world that police misconduct is endemic, just as George Floyd’s death was receding from collective memory. It does a public service to remember that police misconduct is an abysmal problem, committed by police officers targeting mostly people of color, who lie at will. The DOI report, written by the Commissioner the Mayor appointed, reminds everyone that police misconduct is not a lie; it is not overblown. Indeed, it is so rampant that The American Medical Association considers it a public health problem. (The AMA’s reporting is available here: https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/health-equity/why-police-brutality-matter-public-health.)
The DOI report is long, but you might listen to the Commissioner’s press conference and then consider the Mayor’s self-serving, insincere, pre-recorded YouTube response. (Link below.) The Mayor looks disheveled in this video. The lighting is low – I assume the atmospherics were intentional: to make him appear sympathetic, an everyman without a tie, rather than a failed bureaucrat. Listen to his words as I parse below. They are not apologetic; they deflect blame. You might also listen to the false, measured tones the Mayor delivers on his weekly radio interview, as he tries to defend the NYPD. (“The Brian Lehrer Radio Hour,” podcast linked below.) “We have to do better,” the Mayor says is a deflection of blame. Who is “we?” The Mayor later undercuts his logic by stooping so low to attribute the police violence as a response to “looting, which we hadn’t seen in decades.” Come on, Mayor Bill. The word “looting” probably bothered you to say because looting did not pop out of nowhere. Instead, it is objectively a dog-meat code word tangential to racism. Mayor, one of your nemeses, President Trump, used several variants on “looting” to scare white voters away from Biden. His strategy almost worked. Even as you begin your last year in lame-duck stewardship, do you realize what you’ve done to your reputation?
I refer to myself as a civil rights lawyer, but I’m just a guy who ended up in law who appreciates freedom. I have, therefore, expressed grave disappointment in Mayor de Blasio. His apologies are not accepted, at least not by me. The Mayor blames the brutality at the protests, documented in the DOI report, on “a bad year.” All politicians must accept the possibility that there will be a bad year. Rising to the challenges of a lousy year makes a politician into a Statesman. Other city mayors rose to the tests of crisis and accepted responsibility. Still, the Mayor won’t let go of his grip on the defense of an abusive, out-of-control NYPD. “The vast majority of officers did their job,” you say on YouTube. Then you add, “[w]e have to retrain our officers differently.” Those are canned responses, not what citizens want to hear now. A year left in office, and now he’s going to retrain? The Mayor says – again, now – that “the vast majority of police officers…” etc. The “Bad Apples” theory never satisfies. It keeps those officers one might characterize as decent in hiding because they never speak out. Does the Mayor mean the vast majority of those who are basically decent but won’t tell on bad sibling officers, even if that means to lie?
Two weeks after the DOI Commissioner’s Report, the City’s Corporation Counsel issued its own. The Corporation Counsel is the City’s chief lawyer, James Johnson, a man with an impressive pedigree who has held that office for about a year. But his pedigree did not rise to the occasion. Yes, the report was informative; some details are attention-grabbing. In my opinion, however, despite the scholarly tone, Johnson’s report dissatisfies, mainly because it is too intellectual. This approach denies – or at least avoids confronting – the problems of community policing in New York City. I enjoyed digressive footnotes, well-placed references to social science, plus some excellent quotations. But the discussion about how the baked-in pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic fueled the protests took up too much debate, which has no cohesive thesis. Indeed, many digressions are interesting; one footnote asks whether George Floyd’s death – a recorded lynching resulting in an international response – might have taken less than 8 minutes. Who cares! (I have not been able to sit through the video after minute two.) Such minutia distracts from the horrors that preceded these protests – Floyd’s in particular, but the deaths of so many others in police custody. The Floyd protests did not originate from action in New York City – but here is where the response was likely because the NYPD acts with near impunity. The report only mentions the word “brutality” twice and only through quotations of others who did not write Johnsons’ story. I suppose that Counsel’s Report mined the phrase “police brutality” from a search engine, and the best two from civil libertarians of stature made the cut. The Corporation Counsel cannot use the phrase “police brutality.” He is counsel to the NYPD, whether he would dispute that characterization or not.
The recommendations provide a most bureaucratic roadmap for what the police are to do in similar situations as we advance. The experts with whom the report’s authors consulted – including a think tank devoted to social justice issues – made a good impression. But in the end, the recommendations sound in bureaucracy-speak. They say what New Yorkers have heard so many times before. The tone is not apologetic because the report’s premise is that there is nothing to apologize for in a pandemic. Instead, the message is dressed in a smattering of social-science discussion. Some of it is stimulating, but to what effect? There are recommendations in the end, but they are abstruse and multi-layered. The proposals require unrealistic, complicated pre-planning for actions that one cannot predict. A convoluted proposal is no proposal at all. And, of course, the report does not fault the NYPD, nor the Mayor.
The Corporation Counsel’s report does not recognize a history of over-policing nor police brutality. To live in City where some live in a Police State: That reduces the quality of life for many, if not most, New Yorkers. Not just those who live in “high crime” neighborhoods, who bear the most significant burdens of over-policing, but privileged white people who wonder if New York is worth the pain. I don’t want to live in a city that ignores civil rights any more than I wanted to live another four years with Donald Trump as President. The report shows that my quality of life, at least as it applies to my attention to civil rights, will remain for at least another year. I’m naturally optimistic, and I hope I’m wrong. I blame de Blasio for abandoning what he said were his principles. But perhaps this is the lesson. Maybe no Mayor can control the NYPD or its unions. I shudder to think that this might be true.
The New York City Department of Investigation report is available here: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/reports/pdf/2020/DOIRpt.NYPD%20Reponse.%20GeorgeFloyd%20Protests.12.18.2020.pdf
The Commissioner’s Press Conference is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvpM4YpGDO4&ab_channel=NewYorkCityDepartmentofInvestigation
The Mayor’s YouTube response to the DOI report, a sad and false mea culpa, is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUB0Qtxwjak&ab_channel=NYCMayor%27sOffice
Brian Lehrer’s interview with Mayor de Blasio about the Report is available here. (I recommend his radio show in general, and he very nicely cross-examines the City’s failed Mayor in this episode.) The particular podcast episode of which I speak is available here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brian-lehrer-show/id73331636?i=1000502841762
The Corporation Counsel’s Report is available here: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/law/downloads/pdf/ProtestReport-np.pdf
My article in Salon, warts and all, describes the horrors of police abuse I’ve witnessed since 1988. It is available here: https://www.salon.com/2020/06/03/bad-apples-are-not-the-problem-americas-police-have-a-long-legacy-of-brutal-misconduct/
November 20 was Transgender Remembrance Day. I regret I’m not sure that this day existed before now. I found that the day has been around for over 20 years — long enough that I should have known about it. This week, I saw this year’s emblem for the Remembrance, edified that the Biden-Harris Transition lent their support to the cause. That moved me, but it was another reminder, along with constant reports in the media, that transgender killings occur and that and these killings are not solved. And there is always a clear suggestion that the killings are grounded in hate, carried out with the worst expression of discrimination. Why is there a world where a particular group of people has invited upon them such scorn? Sadly, hate sometimes lingers; it gets passed down from generations. Too often, it never goes away.
The Biden-Harris Transition supports the memory of the victims of transgender violence.
The day after Transgender Remembrance Day, I spent the morning watching David France’s film, “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.” It’s a smart movie unwinding a story within a story. (I realized in the middle that I had seen it before, but I kept watching.) It’s an excellent yarn – a broader LGBT history enwraps and intertwines smaller, disheartening developments into the unsolved investigation into Marsha’s death -a project undertaken by activist Victoria Cruz with the Anti-Violence Project. Interspersed are recorded appearances of Sylvia Rivera, who was a gay and transgender warrior, proud of her activism and honest in repeated her experience’s horrors. One sees her get booed as she takes the stage in Washington Square Park on no less than Gay Pride Day. She interrupts and tells the audience, all of whom presumably support gay rights, demonstrating such anti-trans bias, to fuck the hell off. If you watch the film, you witness atrocities like this, a heckling by a gay rights audience! – preserved on video; but the narrative absorbs and these moments feel as if they occur in real-time, as they surely could be.
At the end of the film, David France reports that Sylvia died of liver cancer; he interposes pictures of Sylvia, head in a turban, among her friends in her final months. (She had a fantastic head of hair, as the snapshot I took (below) demonstrates.) The moment in the film where the narrator reports her death is a poignant artistic counterbalance to the tragic parts, like Rivera’s banishment from a shack (no words constructed in fig leaf can substitute). It was all she had, a wooden construction at the old West Side Train Yards on the Upper West Side. Sylvia knows she has to leave and does with dignified anger, but she’s indignant that the NYPD refers to her dispossession as a “clearing” rather than an “eviction.” It would be too extreme to repeat the mantra that there are “no winners, only losers” in this film. But it would be fair to say that the losses outnumber the wins by a disappointing margin.
In 1992, those halcyon days were coming to an end; Giuliani would soon be elected mayor, race-baiting voters with impunity. Someone found Marsha P. Johnson in the water off the Christopher Street Pier. To be precise, the Pier (or “The Piers,”) is a group of unused quays and (then) dilapidated warehouses fallen into disuse. The City converted them into a park, and the new park remains a gathering place, a safe space for LGBT people of color, as well as others. In the seventies, it had been a playground for white gay men of privilege. By the nineties, these men started the flock toward Chelsea (which, like the Village, one can no longer consider a Gayborhood.) “Death and Life” suggests that Marsha might have fallen from the creaky planks of one of the decrepit buildings then into the water. Once, the planks held tons of inventory. Now, minor remnants remain. I once took a gander at the rotting innards where one could look down, straight into the Hudson. The idea that Marsha, in 1992, could have stepped on a broken plank and fallen into the water is a plausible theory.
However, the film notes that still uncertain is whether Marsha died before or after she entered the water. If this lack of clarity makes a difference to the plot is only vaguely explored – and explored only in the language of conspiracy theory with notes of Mob, Syndicate and Mafia. Ms. Cruz explores the question with other players around at the time: Was Marsha shot and thrown in the water? It is impossible to say, but the idea seems unlikely. Yes, the Mob ran the gay bars, including Stonewall, at least until the eighties. But why anyone would want to kill Marsha is hard to fathom. She was an activist, a social butterfly; she was pleasant and harmless. But there lies the rub: In most cases of transgender killings, one might say the exact same thing.
The film notes, however, that still uncertain is whether Marsha died before or after she entered the water. If this lack of clarity makes a difference to the plot is only vaguely explored – and then in the language of conspiracy theory involving the Mafia. The question is explored: Was Marsha shot and thrown in the water? It is impossible to say, but it seems implausible. Yes, the Mob ran the gay bars, including Stonewall, back then. But why anyone would want to kill Marsha is hard to fathom. She was an activist, a social butterfly; she was pleasant and harmless. But there enlies the rub: In most cases of transgender killing, one might say the exact same thing.
In Marsha’s life, Christopher Street was a center of gay activity within the West Village, a full-on Gayborhood. Gay guys and transgender women (and certainly lesbians and transmen) would walk from Christopher Street Pier to Sixth Avenue, where the action and sense of community petered out. So, when you got to the end, you might turn around and work the catwalk in the opposite way. Even during the first decade of the HIV crisis, the feeling on Christopher Street was always buoyant. Christopher Street on Gay Pride Day was a true celebration until police barriers and corporatization ruined the experience. Before that, every year, I made my way to Christopher Street, squeezed through the crowds, watched the parade in short, slow spurts, ran into people, met guys, and had a standing dinner date with a friend at a cheap Thai place. Sometimes I went to the Pier Dance, never with the same person. It was a homecoming and I took many photos. Below is a snapshot of Sylvia Rivera, on Pride Day in 1993. The lighting was awful, but it’s a photo of Silvia Rivera © Gregory Antollino; that means something to me. Her stance displays valor. The job of a portraitist is to capture emotion. I think I did that, but if only the lighting had been better – or if only I had been a better photographer.
Back in Marsha’s and Sylvia’s day (the seventies and eighties), the gay activity in the Village was friendly; you could even call it profuse – but only in the very best sense of that word. Queer action emanated around Christopher Street. Every bar had its particular vibe, and one knew where one wanted to go – or not. The energy on the sidewalks was Out-and-Proud, people walking in and among queer-owned establishments, and others like the iconic Village Cigars. Now one can reasonably say that the West Village has a suggestion of an undertone of a gay vibe. Back then, it was the gay capital of New York City, the East Coast, and – along with The Castro – the country, probably the world. Back then, many who felt the protection of The West Village Community – whether in actuality or imaginatively – would develop confidence. I once saw a button there that read, “How dare you presume I’m a Heterosexual?” I waited for the first time I could say that to someone. For me, the opportunity never arose, or maybe I chickened out, or, confident to be myself, smartened up.
The movie sticks you with the pain of two transgender women – and let’s not forget the third, Victoria Cruz, the investigator with the Anti-Violence Project. She is assigned – or chooses – to take on Marsha’s case decades after Marsha’s death. Cruz is weary; she expresses a proper level of frustration and uses the tools in her possession to fight the bureaucracy. But it overwhelms her, leading her to dead ends and hostile voices. Her face reads worry, exhaustion, disappointment. Her quest suggests that the final insult in her inability to account for the cause of Johnson’s death was the result of the marginalization that Ms. Cruz, Rivera, Johnson, and so many others have suffered. One can complain, reasonably, that someone should have collected better evidence at the proper time. In the present, however, it’s too big to ask to solve someone’s death, let alone determine if the death was a homicide. Twenty years later, with little evidence, one can’t expect any justice. Maybe someone could confess with convincing details, but that’s a hopeless thread on which to hang, so unlikely and indeterminate. I took Cruz’s frustration as coming from a person who had so often experienced discrimination that she expected it had occurred. It seems as though she can no longer ascertain when discrimination occurs and when not..
The film does not end happily for anyone (except a lover of great storytelling). Mr. France, the film-maker (whose other great work is “How to Survive a Plague”), is smart in shaping the stories of Marsha’s death and Sylvia Rivera’s too-painful painful life. In the end, the viewer is clear that Marsha’s death – already a tragedy – cannot be proved a homicide, let alone pinned on a person in the pursuit of justice. Celebrity Medical Examiner Michael Baden makes an appearance at the end of the film. One could think, as I did, that his appearance was disappointing– an HBO huckster who seems to turn possibilities as to how Marsha died into probabilities – and just with the kind and learned tone of his voice. But perhaps that is what everyone needs: to know that the cause of Marsha P. Johnson’s Death is a fact that, owing to lack of evidence, are forever unknowable. Meanwhile, to know, as we do, that there is a need for Transgender Remembrance Day – and that this day needs to carry into the future – is a statement for change, to put it mildly.
Below, photos from Gay Pride, 1993, 2000, 2008, 2017, 2019 in New York, London, and Lisbon.
On YouTube there is a video recounting the experienced of my memorable client, Temmie Thames, a woman of charisma and perspicacity. I saw the discrimination she suffered as a trans woman. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9zHODRbaHA&t=3s. Temmie remained a client on sundry matters for a few years after the original matter for which she hired me. In 2017, she, too, died under tragic circumstances.
Years ago, I filed a copyright lawsuit on behalf of a photographer. The case settled. I do not specialize in this area, but I’m willing to try again. My first civil-rights case involved the free-speech rights of artists and their ability to sell on my City’s streets. Sadly for me, the firm I worked for decided it had to give up the case as, allegedly, it chafed with another client’s goals. But the better news is that the artists, represented by other firms, won on appeal at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Bery v. City of N.Y., 97 F.3d 689 (2d Cir. 1996). The City later modified its “time place, and manner” regulations for street vendors; the new rule was deemed constitutional in Lederman v. N.Y. City Dep’t of Parks & Rec.,731 F.3d 199 (2d Cir. 2013). But things are undoubtedly better now than they were before the first decision. Robert Lederman, a plaintiff in both cases (and the named plaintiff in the second), was the artist I met in connection with the case that would become Bery. Mr. Lederman would have been the lead plaintiff in the case had my former firm not recused itself. Here is a photo I took of some of his work after his first win on the street of Soho:
This picture is of the pre-9/11 Giuliani, when he was generally considered a dictator, but before Oprah dubbed him “America’s Mayor,” much before he became a screaming imbecile. ©Robert Lederman (actual images) and ©Gregory Antollino (photograph).
Grafitti artists recently won a massive judgment under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). Here’s an article: https://tinyurl.com/artists-win Grafitti is art. It varies by location, but in one comune in Italy, Orgosolo is known for its saturation of public art all over town. Orgosolo is in the center of Sardegna. Here is a shot I took in Orgosolo, plus a couple from Johannesburg, South Africa. ©Gregory Antollino.
I know how hard artists must work to retain the right to be artists, how hard it is to make a living on art alone.
I dabble in creative writing and photography and know it would be economically harmful to give up practicing law and start hawking my artistic wares. I sold one photograph at a sidewalk moving sale for $6. Another framed triptych of donkeys that I offered for sale at an exhibition. One potential buyer made an offer. Though I wasn’t expecting to sell anything, I surprised to learn he would not even pay the cost of the frame. So I still have it. People don’t understand art and understand photography less. Here’s one of the donkeys in the tryptic that I took at a donkey sanctuary on Cyprus. ©Gregory Antollino
People think photos are there for the taking, especially if are on the internet. Once an acquaintance, who writes well and has a radio show used a photo I took for him as if it were his. He should have known better. I took the photo as a friendly gesture and he put it up as his Twitter “cover” photo. I didn’t expect any payment, but he did this without telling me, asking for permission, or giving me an ounce of attribution. This reflects the mindset of people who don’t understand that photography has value, and is an art of value. The thirty minutes I spent looking for the street sign and taking the picture was the work I did to create the photo. It’s really nothing special, but just like when I followed the road to the donkey sanctuary. I was in Bari, Italy, and he told me the street was there. I looked up the street on Google Maps (or its 2008 equivalent). Here it is:
It’s no Michaelangelo (pun intended) but an example of the arrogance of people who should know better. (The picture was there for years. The acquaintance never gave attribution or thanked me.) Sour grapes? No. This was an image of little artistic value, let alone economic value, but that the acquaintance used it to promote his Twitter feed – the sine qua non of establishing an online presence – without attribution reveals a common state of mind about photography.
Recently, I listened to an excellent podcast on the misuse of photographic images. The lawyer interviewed got an excellent result in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Here’s the second interview with the lawyer on Master Photography Podcast. He discussed the decision and the result after the Appeals Court sent it back to the trial Court. The decision is here: Brammer v. Violent Hues Prods._ LLC_ 922 F.3d 255 (4th Cir. 2019). Here’s a link to another podcast detailing how one can copyright her photos from The B&H Photography Podcast under Google’s new rules, which Google’s algorithms insert a tag that says “May be subject to copyright,” or “May be licensable.” (The correct adverb is “might,” which means an unknown, not “may,” which suggests the permissive but forget about that for now.) It turns out this is true. I put up a Black Lives Matter photo I took in New York this summer on my “Google My Business” page and it got over 1000 hits. No offers yet, but even though I hadn’t edited the metadata (bad me) maybe because it got many hits, Google inserted the tag “May be subject to Copyright.”
And it is.
In June 2010, I filed an EEOC charge and, shortly thereafter, a complaint in the Eastern District of New York, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as a subset of sex. We could not overcome earlier interpretations of the law, but I fought, first to a three-judge panel of Second Circuit, which held that Mr. Zarda would have to bring his case to the En Banc court, which means all active judges plus any senior judge who sat on the panel. I argued to the en banc and won 10-3.
My opponent petitioned review at the Supreme Court, and after consolidation with two other similar cases, the justices decided 6-3 that LGBT workers are protected under the language “because of sex” under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This means that all employers with at least 15 employees may not discriminate on the basis of sex. It was a long haul, and changed – and will change – United States history. The case was argued for the employees by Pamela Karlan, a prominent constitutional law scholar (below, preparing in the Supreme Court cafeteria) who has stood behind the lectern nine times now and won all but a couple of her cases.
© Gregory Antollino
© Gregory Antollino (share with attribution)
I’ve litigated many police misconduct cases. These include excessive force (or police brutality), false arrest, malicious prosecution, interference with fair trial by perjury, and other areas. I have mostly practiced employment discrimination because juries understand that; regrettably, most juries do not understand police brutality, but maybe, finally, they will now. I turn away most cases because there is some legal flaw, not a fault of the victim, that prevents (or will prevent) a case from success.
I was lucky to get an article published in Salon, June 3, 2020, as I watched the protests unfold on social media. I was rushed to get it out but was able to draw on 25 years of cases I have brought, plus thoughts I’ve had about policing, and – as carried out especially among the urban poor – its many ill effects on society. Police departments can do better, but there are many reasons why they do not. You can read the article here. ) I don’t know how to embed but there was a great graphic, so take a look.)
I wrote the essay feeling that the protests would, once again, result in no meaningful change. But day by day, I sensed the public conversation was changing. I relish that nationwide protests finally arrived (though I don’t mean looting, for sure). I hope that most Americans who saw the violence inflicted on peaceful protesters as I did. Time will tell, but there is no victory in that it had to come to what it did.
This is week-old news, but I had some formatting problems. Those, plus my outrage led to my publication in Salon, which was named an editor’s pick and got thousands of hits. Nevertheless, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. After the accumulated grievance of the Floyd George killing, Bill De Blasio installs his hacks – I don’t care how qualified they are – to investigate the NYPD response to the George Floyd protests. The Great White Hope elected to eliminate “A Tale of Two Cities,” finally shows abject failure. His “Panel” will conduct a horse and pony show, listen, then cast no blame on a single police officer nor the Mayor. His progress on police misconduct is non-existent, yet he had the nerve (no examples provided) to say the NYPD “is not what it once was.” You can see the NYPD running over pedestrians in the street here. The Mayor’s press conference is here.
Immediately at the half-minute mark, De Blasio states: “There are changes we have to make and changes we will make in this City.” What? Were you not elected to make these changes seven years ago? You are starting with a promise for “change” now, as we count the days for you to leave? Why not go far and let the Public Advocate take over. At 1:10, he “thank[s G]od [there was] no loss of life, no major injuries.” Really? Look at the video and tell me that the injuries suffered by those pedestrians were not “major.” What counts as an injury when the police are involved? This is your NYPD, DeBlasio; you have failed in reforming it. I’m injured just looking at the cruiser rush into the pedestrians. DeBlasio repeats the “no major injuries” line a minute later, then a minute later again, suggesting certain linguistic flailing. DeBlasio doesn’t know what to say because he knows he has failed, and this response proves it. He also knows he’s pandering to the police – most of whom don’t live in New York City – and their unions, of whom he’s terrified.
Soon, he praises the alleged “tremendous restraint overall from the NYPD.” “Overall,” of course, is an equivocation. Then he notes that instead of violence, people should “hold the elected officials accountable and all the things that could lead to change[.]” I do not advocate violence by any means, but let’s not kid ourselves. The protests in New York City, as well as across the nation, were a collective response of the FAILURE of elected officials, including, of course, DeBlasio, to control their police forces. He excuses the police cruiser piling into a crowd of pedestrians, noting that, “the situation was created by a group of protesters blocking and surrounding a police vehicle.” What difference does that make? The ends do not justify the means. Violence meets violence, and neither side is justified. The police were in no rush; there was no danger other than some jeering and water throwing. The cops were safe within their vehicles. Had there been an imminent threat, that would have been another question. But we need not answer that question when the police were in no danger. Instead, the police simply believe they are above the law and knew they could act with impunity.
That’s less than the first ten minutes of the self-serving, defensive conference. I’m exhausted writing this, but there’s more to come. DeBlasio failed his on COVID, and he’s long failed at controlling the NYPD. Let’s not let him get away with it. He’s been in many ways worse than Trump. Perhaps we should think of impeaching DeBlasio. I believe there is no other option when a pure incompetent is running the biggest city in the world.
Most of those nurses are heroes, but some were terribly defrauded. I doubt I can take any more clients, though I keep getting calls.
When I filed a lawsuit against Krucial Staffing, I concluded that the City of New York (or one of its agencies) had hired Krucial. The employees were working in NYC public hospitals. When asked by Mother Jones if Krucial were an agent of New York City, the City declined to comment. There was no coordination in efforts between Krucial Staffers and the New York City Health and Hospitals. Indeed, HHC banned from Elmhurst Hospital, a whistleblower who dared speak to the media. The HHC refused to answer my Freedom of Information request, rejecting it on the grounds of the pandemic. This might seem reasonable, but a pandemic results from a failure of medical care as well as the improper transmission of information.
A. Krucial Staffing and the Mayor
Brian Cleary stated on KMBC of Tulsa in late March that the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, had personally called him to help with the pandemic. I heard that with my ears. However, now, if you click the link I posted about a week ago, you will see that the video has been edited to omit that assertion. It was redone, back-dated, and no retraction was posted by KMBC. Shame on KMBC. Again, a pandemic results, in part, from a lack of consistent information. I know what I heard. Brian Cleary said Mayor DeBlasio personally called him. This statement has been retracted. Why?
My connection between Brian Cleary and the Mayor (or even the City) was based, in part, on Brian Cleary’s lie. I will seek the outtakes, but no small station will care about a subpoena from a New York lawyer. KMBC should know, however, that journalistic ethics require that it make clear that “an earlier edit of this broadcast…” etc. If KMBC is journalistically ethical, it will make that clarification that it changed its reporting. I would not have wasted posting it on my website if I did not believe it to be significant evidence.
B. Krucial Staffing Distances Itself from the Mayor
Meanwhile, this weekend, my Google alerts on “Krucial Staffing” revealed something different – not from Cleary, but one of its workers – in an online periodical from Somerset, Kentucky, Commonwealth Journal. In the Journal, the staffer was quoted as saying that “Krucial Staffing . . . is working with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to staff 14 hospitals in New York.” http://” https://www.somerset-kentucky.com/covid-19/on-the-front-lines-in-new-york/article_c532849e-8ccb-11ea-ac3a-cb307827b2a8.html. How does Commonwealth Journal know this? Did it come from Brian or the nurse interviewed for the article? Is it true? Despite FEMA, is there anything connecting Krucial to the City of New York. These questions are reasonable. Krucial Staffing incorporated in 2019, so if there are no terrible Yelp reviews, that is probably by design. Meanwhile, I cannot imagine that its contract with the City or FEMA is worth anything less than in the billions.
Yesterday, the City Office of Emergency Management (OEM) rejected my request for information as to the links between OEM and Krucial. Its FOIL officer stated, “There is no contract between Krucial Staffing and OEM.” I would have thought this agency had some agreement with Krucial. And what about HHC – which can just as quickly deny connection to Krucial. But HHC stuck me with, “we’re too busy.” I appealed that determination and HHC rejected it again. Why not come out and say yes or no? OEM did. I fine-tuned my request to OEM because that agency might have subcontracted with another agency to hire Krucial Staffing. We’ll see what they say in the statutory five days, or reasonably after that.
I might have been misinformed all along, but I can’t say for sure. While there were apparent hints and I still don’t know, maybe FEMA is responsible for hiring Krucial. Thus it need not comment. This speaks to the federal government’s response to the pandemic, which, perhaps, the City didn’t want to upset because Donald Trump is withholding aid? It’s a reasonable theory.
C. Krucial’s Lawyers Threaten Gregory Antollino
Krucial’s law firm, Lathrop GPM in Kansas City, contacted me a week ago, warning me not to “publically post [or] communicat[e] false statements about” Krucial and Brian Cleary. Lathrop GPM is marketing itself to defending corporations in the pandemic. As for me, Lathrop said my “conduct . . . might” violate the Rules of Professional Responsibility in New York. He did not tell me how even when I asked for clarification. The rule in New York is that lawyers cannot invoke the disciplinary rules to obtain a “civil advantage.”
Lathrop GPM, through a high-ranking partner, probably violated that rule. Still, it failed to put me on notice as to what how I had violated any provisions of professional conduct. It merely tried to scare me. Its letter said I might be “subjecting [my]self to personal liability for defamation and trade liable.” There is no such thing in New York as “trade liable,” by which the attorney probably meant “trade libel.” Those cases are rare. Remember the trial in Texas against Oprah for saying she would “never eat a hamburger again?” She won, and it raised her stature.
Also, truth is an absolute defense in all libel actions and New York has a powerful “litigation privilege,” allowing parties and attorneys to comment on pending litigation. New York also has an anti-SLAPP statute. In theory, the anti-SLAPP is there to protect whistleblowers (like my clients or me) from filing a lawsuit then being “slapped” with a libel claim.
I believe I am protected under New York law. Nevertheless, I want to know whether the City of New York, FEMA, or both have any connection to Krucial Staffing. Why won’t the City tell the public? A sociologist was recently quoted in The Atlantic, in commenting on the pandemic and the information that will come with it, that “Alarmism is equated with misinformation . . . [b]butwhen you do have some [information] coming, no one feels empowered to say: ‘This one isn’t alarmism . . . There’s a cultural script that we play, and when the script changes, it takes time to shift to a new one.” Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist from the University of North Carolina, said this. See the entire article here: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/pandemic-confusing-uncertainty/610819/
Meanwhile, someone needs to correct the script, or stick to a consistent, truthful script by which we can all guide ourselves.
It is hard for nurses – some long-term employees, working in hospitals caring for COVID-19 patients – to speak out during the pandemic. One brave nurse reported her experience to the New York Times in an opinion piece. Meanwhile, NYU-Langone is threatening nurses with termination if they speak to the press, as published in Bloomberg News. The article said that “the NYU Langone Health system has warned employees they could be terminated if they talk to the media without authorization.” Read it here.
As an NYU Law grad, I am shocked that any part of my alma mater, which bills itself as “A Private University in the Public Service,” would issue such an edict. Free speech and public knowledge are surely within public service. (I do believe that NYU Law School has not lost this mission; if you visit its website, there are publically accessible information about COVID and the law.) But the hospital has lost its way. It should go to one of the Law School’s presentations about this and stop worrying about the exposer of truth.
Anyway, Mother Jones, a venerable publication that seeks to expose cover-ups and untruths of government and the oligarchs, was unafraid to publish a story about my nurses. See the Mother Jones article. The case has also been covered by the Business Insider and Becker’s Hospital Review.
Meanwhile, the case has been covered in some local press outlets in New York (TODAY), a local news affiliate in Kansas, and a FOX affiliate in Oklahoma. In the latter, Brian Cleary, Krucial CEO, admits that the call for Krucial came from lame-duck New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio. See KBMC. Meanwhile, the City of New York Health and Hospitals Corporation refuses to post the public contract on The City Record Online. When asked by the Mother Jones‘ journalist, the City declined to comment on its connection to Krucial. My Freedom of information request has gone unanswered. RE FOIL Request for Contract between Krucial Staffing
Government entities that refuse to tender documents, supposedly within the public record, are using COVID as an excuse. FOIL requests are supposed to be answered within 5 days; extra time is appropriate, but 60 days? Meanwhile, the nurses were duped. The nurses suing Krucial were promised one thing and given something that could lose them their licenses or affect their (and their family’s) health. If you think that’s OK, that’s your decision. But Krucial misrepresented the terms of safety; it distorting the terms of what these nurses will have to face. If some nurses are willing to die without proper personal protective equipment, that is their decision, and there will likely be deaths. But none of the plaintiffs who objected to lack of safety came to New York assuming such a risk.
The amended complaint was recently filed (see below). That, plus the reporting, has created some changes. First, Krucial appears to be paying for the quarantine of nurses at the New Yorker Hotel, or elsewhere, where many workers are being housed. (They were not doing that before.) CEO Brian Cleary, however, is sending blast emails to employees to be sure to get proper personal protection equipment, or don’t accept an assignment. That email was likely something it did to cover Krucial’s tracks, and it has removed from its Instagram site a representation that all employees will get proper PPE. The video started was called “PPE Policy,” and it is now deleted. So Krucial now has no PPE policy!
But the follow-up question is this: What will the workers do then if they don’t get proper PPE? The City has sought bids on proper masks, but could it not have done this before luring nurses from all over the country through Krucial? Moreover, the City did little due diligence Likely, these unsuspecting nurses will be told to “demobilize” – a term within Krucial’s lingo that means to stop working and go home. Krucial’s employee handbook requires nurses to follow OSHA guidelines, which require proper personal protection equipment. The NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation requires the same. Krucial is getting many, many calls in this unemployed economy, and will happily dispose of nurses who can’t get PPE. (The City of New York Health and Hospitals Corporation, meanwhile, is complicit in these failures, but I will have to see its contract with Krucial Staffing before I can ascertain if it has legal responsibility. I had previously stated that
I have other cases, but this one really burns me up – for my clients, the public, and because of the incompetence the Mayor has shown in deploying Krucial without due diligence and without coordinating with HHC hospitals. The DeBlasio administration deserves a post-mortem analysis before the Mayor goes onto greener pastures. He seemed so promising when he came into the office! But the White Knight failed in his progressive vision, promising so much, delivering so little. I cannot wait until he becomes the next Giuliani, slobbering on himself as he tries to stay relevant. DeBlasio might get onto “Real-Time” – he is friends with Bill Maher – but as they used to say of Nixon after he resigned, no one would elect him dogcatcher. What an eight-year disappointment he has been. To think that anyone thought he should be president other than him. He’s a charlatan, and not up to hs job now, let alone higher office. I remember when he first ran, I walked up to him and shook his hand. I did not vote for him in his second run, preferring to register a protest vote.
Krucial Staffing has also responded to the claims of MANY employees who were not properly fitted for an N95 mask. The N95 is the standard of care in preventing infections of health care providers, but these masks require a fit to be sure there is a seal that protects the nurses. The City is not providing these tests – or is doing so incompetently – and Krucial is not willing (nor, to be charitable) able to do them either. Therefore, Cleary recommends that anyone without a proper “fit test” – which determines the size of the respirator needed – to go to their hometowns over Easter Weekend. Who would have paid for the trip was unspecified, so you can be sure Krucial was not paying. Cleary’s suggestion is what is known in the law as a “pretext”: a lie to cover up true motives. CEO Cleary knows that no one who wants a proper fit test will go home and them come back – presumably on their own dime – especially after a holiday weekend. Indeed, should they go back to their hometown, they might have been quarantined for two weeks, depending on the state. Krucial is merely trying to shed these “problem employees” ASAP. It is not a surprise to me that DeBlasio trusted this fraud.
I’ve been working from home but it happens that some work I’ve been doing is COVID related. I’m glad to be – if not on the front lines – a few lines back.
Layoffs and furloughs because of COVID-19 have occurred and will occur in the future. But if there is a downsizing of one, and the *one* is you, then maybe COVID is not the real reason. Why were you selected? Was it because you were not working up to par? If so, termination might be a blessing. But I have found, in over 20 years of employee-rights practice that *usually* where there is an abbreviated layoff involving just a few, that those chosen were not chosen because of their skills, but (mostly) their age (or other discriminatory reasons).
I just filed a lawsuit – and, remember, a lawsuit contains only allegations and is not proof – that a major property management company feared my client, an administrative employee, had COVID-19 because she visited her daughter’s school in Elmhurst, Queens. (Elmhurst is a hotspot within the bigger New York City hotspot.) She does not have COVID, nor do we believe that because she visited a school that the employer believed she had COVID. Instead, this was a lie – the company really wanted to get rid of her because she had an accent.
Of course, many of us have heard of Asian Americans being targetted for rage and abuse because the coronavirus originated in China. That could happen in the workplace as easily as it could in the street.
I have also just filed a lawsuit – again, alleging facts with detailed allegations – that medical workers (nurses, mostly) are being deployed to New York by a Krucial Staffing (hired by the City of New York Health and Hospitals Corporation) in a bait-and-switch scheme. The company promised many nurses – mostly of African American descent, most in their late 20’s/early 30’s – huge combat pay to travel to New York. It promised Personal Protection Equipment – the most important of which is the N95 mask – and several positions to fill. They should not have made this representation, which we contend is a fraud; New York City did not have positions to fill, except for nurses willing to work in positions they were not competent to perform. This risks patients and the nurses, as the latter were not provided proper personal protection equipment (PPE), a common problem, but nevertheless something this company promised. Many of the traveling nurses developed symptoms, and – without quarantining or testing them for COVID – sent them on packed planes where, if exposed, could infect other passengers. Others quit their jobs to be on the front lines.
Some nurses complained and were told to “demobilize,” which basically means fired. The CEO of the company, after the nurses arrive in New York, is telling workers to be “flexible,” even though the company made promises that proper PPE would be provided, something the nurses replied on.
The lawsuit also brings claims under New York Labor Law § 741, which is perhaps the only whistleblower statute that has any teeth in the State of New York. Section § 741 requires a health-care employee who believes that patients are receiving substandard or inadequate care to report the violation to a supervisor immediately so the facility may correct the violation. If, after reporting the violation, you lose your job, you are a whistleblower and may sue within two years. (Item: a health-care worker’s good-faith belief in a violation, if reported, qualifies the worker for Labor Law protections. (There is also a weaker whistleblower law that applies to all employees – Labor Law § 740 – but it is weaker as it requires the violation must actually be a violation; good-faith belief doesn’t count.
I am interested in these cases. We do not have to meet (right now) in order for me to take your case if the facts support a lawsuit. If you believe you were fired for reporting healthcare violations, call me at 212-334-7398 to discuss. I can also refer you to other attorneys.
Also, Krucial, after the agreement on wages for employees was to include payment for quarantine, they reneged on that promise as of recently. If you have not been paid wages in accordance with your original agreement, please contact me at 212-334-7398 and once New York State courts reopen I will be filing “Wage Theft” cases against Krucial for reneging on quarantine pay, which allows double damages and attorneys fees to Krucial’s victims. They are not an honest company, as I have learned in my conversations with so many Krucial employees and reading documents in connection with the lawsuit. If you can’t get through on the phone to get a job with Krucial, you might consider that a blessing!
The amended federal complaint is attached below.