Koehler & Isaacs Wins Significant Legal Victory for NYC Correction Officers

State Supreme Court Judge Acknowledges, for the First Time, That the City Has Failed to Keep Correction Officers Safe, Gives The Green Light for Potentially Precedent-Setting Case

By: Steven Isaacs & Liam Castro

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association brought a case, by its attorneys Koehler and Isaacs LLP, and the first of its kind in New York, against the City because of its failure to provide to correction officers proper training to deal with, and equipment to protect themselves against violent inmates. COBA believes the City’s failures have resulted, and continue to result in unnecessary, preventable, and serious injuries to its members. This is unacceptable.

The City asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the action because it believed this involved a dispute over tactics, over which the Court has no jurisdiction. On July 12, 2019, the Court released its decision entirely rejecting the City’s argument. The Supreme Court held the City failed to address the danger caused by violent inmates. “This systematic failure is due, in large part, to DOC’s decision not to properly train and equip correction officers so that they can maintain order and security in the jail system, and protect themselves and others from these dangerous inmates…” The City had “not shown that DOC has implemented the controls mandated by the (Workplace Violence Law) or conducted risk assessments for incidents of violence, or defused areas of concern by taking mitigating steps, such as considering the propensities of a part of a jail population, as well as properly training and equipping correction officers to address some of these problems.”

COBA General Counsel Steven Isaacs said that he “hopes the City, instead of the usual defensive reaction and appeal, carefully examines the Judge’s reasoning and addresses the violence in the jails by ensuring it provide proper training and equipment to protect correction officers. Furthermore, the Judge’s decision in this case can benefit all municipal employees in the state whose employers are not properly addressing and protecting them from injuries.”

“In 2013 the NYS Department of Labor found 5 serious systematic violations of the law by the City’s Correction Department,” said COBA Director of Legal Affairs Marc Steier. “Since then, and particularly under the current union administration, the COBA has constantly pointed out the ineffectual Workplace Violence program at the Department. This is a historic judicial decision that gives all municipal workers a meaningful avenue of redress. The Judge’s denunciation of the Department’s reckless disregard of Officer’s safety validates what we have always known – Correction Officers did not “sign up” to be punching bags for inmates or cannon fodder for political ends. Unbelievably, the City’s attorneys made this very argument and even suggested the matter unworthy of judicial review. The reality is that the Department has a special relationship to keep its workers safe – a relationship they have long ignored in favor of so-called reform changes that make everyone unsafe. Perhaps with Judge Rubén Franco’s assistance, we can finally see sanity restored along with security.”