Sunday, August 5, 2018

NY Daily News: Aitabdellah Salem Sat In Rikers For $1, Now Wants City To Pay

There must be consequences for committing a crime, that's for sure. We have laws to protect us. But there should be consequences for leaving a man imprisoned because no one told him he could be free on $1 bail.
Judge John Koeltl
C'mon, this is common sense. Federal Judge John Koeltl should change his mind, or be reprimanded.

Betsy Combier
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Aitabdella Salem

Sat in Rikers for $1

Did 5 mos., not told bail was cut, but lawsuit tossed

NY Daily News, Stephen Rex Brown, Aug. 5, 2018
He was left to languish on Rikers Island for five months without being told his bail was only a dollar – but there’s no one to blame.
A judge has tossed a lawsuit filed by a Queens man who alleges the city violated his constitutional rights through the unnecessary time in jail, ruling that the debacle was not “outrageous.”
Aitabdellah Salem’s ordeal revealed a disastrous failure in court bureaucracy. He was arrested for shoplifting and assault following a struggle with a cop on Nov. 21, 2014. At the time of his arraignment, he was facing a previous assault charge and a judge slapped him with $50,000 bail. Less than a week later, his bail was reduced to $1 during a hearing he didn’t attend. He missed a total of four hearings regarding his case.
The public defenders who waived his appearances never gave him updates, and jail staff did not follow orders to bring him to court, Salem charges. He didn’t learn he could have bought his freedom for less than the price of a cup of coffee until April 2015.
Nevertheless, Salem’s stay at the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers wasn’t egregious enough to sustain his lawsuit for violations of his due process rights, Manhattan Federal Court Judge John Koeltl wrote.
“Failure to produce Salem in court and failure to inform Salem that his bail had been reduced may amount to negligence, but in total, his detention under these circumstances does not meet the standard required to be considered outrageous,” Koeltl wrote.
Salem, 43, is serving five years in prison for second-degree assault and petty larceny for shoplifting at a Zara store in the Flatiron district. That sentence weighed heavily in Koeltl’s decision.
“Salem has not challenged the validity of his convictions,” Koeltl wrote in a ruling released Wednesday. “The defendants were justified in holding Salem until bail was paid.”
Salem’s attorney, Welton Wisham, was outraged.
“I just can’t believe you can hold a guy for $1 bail!” he said. “But according to this judge, it’s OK!”
On April 15, 2015 — after 138 days on Rikers — Salem was freed on bail. A correction officer told him a jail chaplain — who never met Salem but heard about his case — paid his bail.
Salem was convicted on Aug. 9, 2016, his time served at Rikers will be applied to his prison time as a credit.
The city Law Department declined to comment. Koeltl gave Wisham until next month to file an amended complaint to address legal issues in the suit.
The attorney said he hadn’t yet broken the news of the court defeat to Salem.
“I don’t know if the system is racist. I don’t know what to say,” Wisham said. “How can he pay the bail if he didn’t know about it?”

Queens man who spent five months at Rikers not knowing his bail was only $1 suing city, Legal Aid lawyers
Now he wants the city and his lawyers to pay.

A Queens man who languished at Rikers Island for five months without knowing his bail was just $1 is suing the city and his Legal Aid lawyers for keeping him in the dark.

Aitabdel Salem, 42, was arrested on Nov. 21, 2014, on charges he attacked an NYPD officer trying to collar him after he allegedly stole a coat at a Zara store in the Flatiron district, according to court documents.

His bail was initially set at $25,000 in that case and in a second case the next day.

On Nov. 26, his return court date, he was never produced in court, and a judge dropped the bail in one of those cases to a buck.

Two days later, he was again not produced in court. A judge ordered him released on his own recognizance in the second case because prosecutors hadn't convened a grand jury within 144 hours, as is required by law if a felony suspect is held on bail, according to the lawsuit.

Salem had another court date on Feb. 11, and again, he wasn't produced before a judge, the lawsuit claimed.

At each court date after his arraignment, his lawyer waived his appearance and allowed the proceeding to go on without him, the lawsuit alleges.

"Mr. Salem implored corrections officers within (Rikers Island) to tell him what happened on his respective court dates," the lawsuit alleges. "None of the corrections officers told him that he was ordered to be free on Nov. 28, 2014, because his bail had been reduced from to $1.

"In fact, they all ignored his unrelenting pleas for information regarding his freedom," the lawsuit alleges.

A prison chaplain ultimately paid his bail on April 15, 2015.

The Daily News first broke Salem's story in June 2016, after he was acquitted on bail-jumping charges. He missed a court date about a month after his release because he hadn't been told of a scheduling change, according to the lawsuit.

Salem was ultimately convicted on felony assault and criminal tampering charges in August, and is serving four and a third to five years in state prison.

Man Claims He Spent Months On Rikers Because No One Told Him His Bail Was $1

A former Rikers Island inmate is suing the city and the Legal Aid Society, saying that he was jailed for over four months without anybody telling him that his bail had been set at a dollar.
Aitabdellah Salem was arrested in November 2014 for allegedly stealing a coat from a Zara store, injuring a police officer, and possessing burglary tools. Facing charges of assault and petit larceny, he was arraigned in two separate cases, and initially had his bail set at $25,000 for each case. Within days, however, a judge reduced his bail for one case to $1. Judges often set bail at $1 for defendants facing multiple cases so that they get credit towards time served if they are later convicted.
When a grand jury failed to convene within a week in the other case, another judge ordered Salem released.
From late November till the following April, Salem sat. Court appearances came and went, and according to his suit, his three Legal Aid attorneys repeatedly appeared in court without him, and each time failed to notify him that only a dollar stood between him and freedom. Rikers guards, too, failed to inform him of his bail status, even as he repeatedly asked them for information, Salem alleges. He suffers from schizophrenia, according to the court filing.
Salem was released only when a jail chaplain whom he had never met paid his bail.
The lawyers' and jailers' approach "amounts to deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff’s Constitutional rights," Salem's lawyer, Welton Wisham, wrote in the complaint. Wisham notes in the filing that in 2016 the City Council introduced legislation that would require jail guards to determine whether an inmate has pending court appearances soon after their arrival, and produce them for such appearances, as they are already required to. The bill was meant to address a recurring problem with the Department of Correction failing to bring defendants to their court dates. Mayor de Blasio signed it into law in December.
"There may just well be others," in Salem's situation, Wisham told the New York Post.
More than half of the people awaiting trial on Rikers are there because they can't afford bail.
Salem pleaded guilty to assault and petit larceny in July 2016 in connection with the 2014 arrest, and was sentenced to five years in prison, a Manhattan District Attorney's Office spokesman said. Salem is currently serving his term in medium-security lockup in western New York, according to state records. A related case is sealed.
A Legal Aid spokeswoman declined to comment. A Law Department spokesman said the agency is reviewing the complaint.
Department of Correction spokesman Peter Thorne wrote in an email, “We have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of any inmate, and we take such claims seriously. The vast majority of our officers carry out their duties with care and integrity."
He declined to comment further, citing the ongoing litigation.

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