Sat in Rikers for $1
Did 5 mos., not told bail was cut, but lawsuit tossed
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 dueprocess 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 seconddegree 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?”
Aitabdellah Salem was held for five months at Rikers Island, but wasn’t told his bail had been reduced to $1. He sued, but judge ruled oversight was negligent, “not outrageous.”