NYC agrees to pay $300 million to people wrongly held on Rikers Island, city courthouse lockups after paying bail
New York City has agreed to pay out $300 million to people wrongly detained on Rikers Island after posting bail, according to papers filed Tuesday in Manhattan Federal Court.
The mammoth settlement will pay $3,500 to anyone detained between October 2014 and October 2022 for longer than three hours past the time they should have been released, the court papers say.
According to the city’s records, there are between 71,000 and 82,000 people potentially eligible for payouts. Some people arrested or detained multiple times were held too long more than once — the city estimates there were 94,000 instances where detainees were held for too long.
Manhattan Federal Court Judge John Koeltl must approve the settlement in the class action case.
Under the proposed settlement terms, people who believe they were detained too long after they posted bail will have to file claims to obtain the money. The settlement includes money for advertising and other promotions to let those affected know they can file claims.
Anyone who thinks they’re eligible must fill out a claim form, which Debra Greenberger said will be available online once Koeltl approves the agreement.
An example of someone held too long after they posted bail is James Lynch of Brooklyn, who was sent to Rikers Island in 2017 on charges not specified in court papers.
The Bronx Freedom Fund, a nonprofit that posts bail for indigent people, put up $500 for Lynch’s release at 3:56 p.m. on March 29, 2017.
Around four hours later — roughly at 8 p.m. — Rikers staff told Lynch, then 55 years old, to pack his things because he was to be freed.
“Mr. Lynch complied with this direction and waited for a correction officer to arrive to escort him out of the housing area for release,” says the lawsuit. “Assuming he would not be spending the night in jail, Mr. Lynch gave his bedding away to other inmates.”
Around 11 p.m., Lynch realized he would not be freed that night, and he scrambled to get his bedding back, says the lawsuit.
At 5 a.m. on March 30, Lynch left a phone message for his daughter asking her to call his lawyer, because he feared he’d miss a court hearing in Brooklyn later that day.
Around 9 a.m., Lynch was escorted out of his housing unit. “However, instead of being released directly, he was brought to the intake area, where he was held in a cell for several additional hours,” the complaint says.
He was finally released at 2:40 p.m., nearly 23 hours after his bail was posted. “There was no justification for this overdetention,” the federal court complaint says.
Lynch died in August 2021, court papers say.
Greenberger, a lawyer who brought the case, said the settlement attempts to right the wrongs of “grossly inadequate” administrative processes by jail officials.
”I feel good about the work we did to get to this point. The issue is just getting the word out so that those class members know they are eligible,” she said.
”This is an opportunity for people who were released on bail from Rikers and other city jails to obtain compensation for that very difficult situation.”
A city Department of Correction spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The city did not admit liability, court records show.
The city may end up paying a lot less than $300 million in the case because not everyone with a claim will seek compensation, a Law Department spokesman said.
“The return rate will not be 100%, so the city is not paying $300 million,” said the spokesman. “The return rate is unknown, but in other cases typical return rates are between 10% and 25%. But until the claim period ends in this case it is impossible to say with any certainty.”
The case might be one of the largest group settlements in Correction Department history. In 2001, the city settled a case over improper strip searches for $50 million.