Filed Date: Nov. 9, 1970
Clearinghouse coding complete
On October 2, 1970, unrest took place at the Queens House of Detention (QHD) in Long Island City, with some incarcerated persons taking control of certain floors and destroying some equipment. This riot predated that which occurred in the Manhattan House of Detention (The Tombs) as well as the Queens House of Detention in Kew Gardens, as both facilities' detained persons revolted the following day, October 3. The resistance arose over issues associated with overcrowding at the facility as well as delays in individuals' trials.
On November 9, 1970, the plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York seeking injunctive relief relating to the underlying causes of the protests as well as to the use of violence in reprisal for individuals for alleged roles in those protests. Represented by the Legal Aid Society of New York City, the plaintiffs sued New York City, its Department of Corrections, and relevant officials under 42 U.S.C. §1983. The plaintiffs alleged a range of constitutional violations for, among other incidents, retaliations for rioting, denial of medical care, limits on contact visits, poor conditions of confinement, and witness intimidation. The case was assigned to Judge Orrin Grimmell Judd.
The plaintiffs successfully sought temporary restraining orders on November 9 and 19 of 1970 that required the jail to report information concerning the treatment of detained persons and to permit individuals in the QHD to be able to speak with counsel. Shortly after, the plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction. However, the district court on December 8, 1970, denied the preliminary injunction in part, only granting it to the extent that individuals could freely testify and be free from any retaliation for doing so. The court further dissolved the previously granted temporary restraining orders. 325 F.Supp. 408. The court later amended this order on February 1, 1971, to grant class certification. On October 21, 1971, the court allowed fifteen members of the class to opt out so that their ability to seek individualized damages would not be inhibited.
On April 20, 1971, the court appointed a special master to determine the scope of the alleged improper use of force by correctional officers against detained persons at QHD. The special master issued a report on July 26, 1971, detailing that, at the time of the uprising, approximately 927 individuals were held in a facility meant for 520, caused by "substantial delays" for those awaiting trial. However, the special master did not find there to be excessive force or witness intimidation.
The court on November 11, 1971, denied the plaintiffs' motion for an injunction. In doing so, the court reasoned that there was insufficient evidence that violence by correctional officers persisted past October 13, 1970. However, the court ordered that the defendants produce a plan that would allow for an impartial investigation into allegations of violence by correctional officers from October 4 to 13, the days following the initial uprising. Additionally, the court ordered that the defendants develop a grievance procedure. On March 24, 1972, the parties stipulated to the appointment of a special prosecutor to determine whether excessive force had been used and what, if any, departmental charges would be appropriate in response.
As to the underlying issues that sparked the unrest––overcrowding via double celling and inadequate time out of cells––the court consolidated this case with Detainees of Brooklyn House of Detention v. Malcolm for the purposes of trial. On July 31, 1974, the court held that double celling violated detained individuals' equal protection and due process, including privacy, rights and ordered the city discontinue the practice. The court justified its conclusion partly on the basis that pre-trial detainees generally needed to be held in the least restrictive means possible that were compatible with security concerns. The court further reasoned that eliminating double celling would also make it more possible for individuals to spend longer amounts of time out of their cells. On October 2, 1974, the court vacated its July 31 order and substituted in its place a new order that permitted double celling in certain, enumerated circumstance. The court also ordered that double celling broadly be eliminated by March 1, 1975. Shortly thereafter, the court ordered on November 6 that notice be provided to members of the Brooklyn House of Detention and QHD classes to effectuate the defendants' compliance.
On November 15, 1974, the court denied the plaintiffs' motion to hold the defendants in contempt. The plaintiffs contended that the defendants effectively coerced individuals into consenting to be double celled by suggesting that they would be transferred to another facility where they would be double celled if they indicated a preference to be in a single cell. The court refrained from holding the defendants in contempt but ordered that the defendants permit individuals to change their mind about consenting to being double celled and to provide assurances that individuals would not be penalized or transferred for opting to be single celled.
The defendants appealed the district court's order that broadly prohibited double celling. On July 31, 1975, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (District Judge John Reis Bartels, sitting by designation) affirmed the district court's findings of fact and legal conclusions. 520 F.2d 329. In its decision, the Second Circuit relied on Rhem v. Malcolm, 507 F.2d 333 (2d Cir. 1974), which addressed similar concerns at The Tombs. The Court of Appeals adjudged the order too broad, however, because it reached all incarcerated individuals, not just those awaiting trial. The Court of Appeals also held that federal courts could order the city to release some of the plaintiffs, but could not mandate construction of new jails.
On remand, the district court on September 9, 1975, lifted the ban against transfers of individuals to other facilities and further ordered that the defendants develop a plan for permanent compliance with the prohibition against double celling. The court on December 17, 1975, evaluated the defendants' proposed plan. Noting defects in the proposal to extend double celling for up to thirty days to all facilities, the court ordered that the defendants gradually draw down the length of time in which individuals could be involuntarily double celled. The court further ordered, in order to comply with such a requirement, that the defendants release detained individuals held at the lowest bail for the longest time by June 1, 1976. On January 8, 1976, the court entered a partial final judgment to this effect.
No further documents are available to the Clearinghouse.
Matthew Feng (5/24/2023)
See docket on RECAP: https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/5538102/torres-v-united-states/
Last updated July 1, 2023, 3 a.m.
State / Territory: New York
Filing Date: Nov. 9, 1970
Case Ongoing: No reason to think so
Detained individuals at the Queens House of Detention
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Order Duration: 1974 - None
Content of Injunction:
Type of Facility: