Things That Matter

A New York City Landlord Is Facing A $17K Fine After Threatening To Call ICE On Tenant

We’ve all heard stories of shady landlords doing crazy things to their tenants. Whether it’s raising rent without notice or using discriminatory practices to try to kick out a resident. But one landlord in New York City took it up a notch when she threatened to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on her tenant if she didn’t pay overdue rent. An administrative judge in New York City ruled this month that the landlord should pay a $5,000 fine and $12,000 in damages for threatening to call ICE. 

The tenant, Holly Ondaan, is from Guyana with European Union citizenship and was undocumented when her former landlord, Dianna Lysius, threatened to call immigration officials on her. Now, Lysius is facing legal trouble and a hefty fine after a New York City judge called her actions a “human rights violation.” 

According to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the judges decision is thought to be the first housing case in the country in which an individual was fined for threatening to call immigration authorities.

The situation began back in October 2017 when Ondaan, who lived on the Queens property since 2011, admittedly stopped paying rent due to financial difficulties in her life at the time. Shortly after, she began to receive texts from Lysius about the missing money that would lead to her falling behind in mortgage payments and eventually having to sell the property in foreclosure. In his ruling, Judge John B. Spooner said that Lysius’s “dire financial circumstances likely played a significant part in motivating her hostile messages.”

That’s when things started getting hostile. In January 2018, Lysius began eviction proceedings against Ondaan and would write in a text message that she would call ICE if she didn’t pay rent that same day. According to the judges report, some of the texts included:

“It was fun and games when you calling DOB now it’s fun and games calling immigration 12 times day. They can deport you.”

After a three months of discriminatory texts, New York’s Commission on Human Rights sent Lysius a cease-and-desist letter requesting that she stop harassing her tenant. The commission said that Lysius’s actions were discriminatory and unlawful. 

Lysius to this point has denied all the accusations of harassment towards her former tenant. While she has been fined, there are still more legal steps that must happen before it goes into effect.

The case is a first when it comes to a landlord using immigration services to threaten a tenant. The commission also saw it as a case setting precedent  and classified Lysius’s actions as discrimination under New York City’s human-rights law. 

“It sets important case precedent for the interpretation of our Human Rights Law to include the weaponization of ICE to intimidate or harass someone in housing as a violation,” Sapna V. Raj, deputy commissioner for the law enforcement bureau of the city’s Commission on Human Rights, told CNN. “We will not allow our city’s most vulnerable to be further marginalized out of fear for their safety in their own homes. Immigration status, citizenship, and national origin (perceived or actual) are protected categories under our law, and we will continue to fight to ensure those protections are enforced to the fullest extent.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lysius said she never send the texts and emails to her former tenant and as of now, she plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. “Everything in that report is false,” Lysius said.

Ondaan has admitted that she wasn’t authorized to be in the U.S. at the time when Lysius threats began. She would obtain her green card in July 2018, according to the judges ruling. She would moved out of the property in October 2018, owing $14,400 in back rent. A court ruled that Ondaan would have to pay $6,895 of the past rent. 

Spooner’s decision won’t take effect before both parties have time to submit comments and the city human rights commission issues a final decision, according to CNN. Lysius can then file her appeal.

READ: ICE Has Made It Clear That The Cruelty In Its Policies Is The Point, Meanwhile An 8th Person Has Died In Their Custody

Rikers Guards Suspended For Allegedly Ignoring Teen Inmate As He Committed Suicide

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Rikers Guards Suspended For Allegedly Ignoring Teen Inmate As He Committed Suicide

mitchjackson / Instagram

Four New York City Rikers Island correction officers, including a captain, have been suspended for knowingly failing to intervene in a teen detainee’s suicide attempt for seven minutes. The night before Thanksgiving, Nicholas Feliciano, 18, was jumped by seven other inmates and left with a gash on his face. Instead of taking him to the infirmary, guards placed him in a holding cell where he hung himself from a pipe with his shirt. Whistleblowers from the prison have told The New York Times that one guard actually opened Feliciano’s cell door to find him hanging from the pipe, closed the door, and walked away. A witness told The New York Times that, after Feliciano stepped off the toilet partition, he changed his mind and tried to find the partition to free himself from the makeshift noose. Feliciano hung for seven minutes without any intervention, and it was more than a half-hour before paramedics were able to whisk him away from the prison complex. 

Feliciano was taken to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was put into an induced coma on Tuesday. He has yet to show signs of brain activity.

At first, the Department of Corrections wouldn’t allow Feliciano’s family to visit him in the hospital.

CREDIT: LEGAL AID SOCIETY

The Legal Aid Society, which has taken up Feliciano’s case, penned a letter to the DOC to request charges against the teen be dropped. “This is unacceptable. He poses no security risk and needs his family at his bedside at this critical time,” the letter reads. According to Legal Aid Society, the family had to wait to be cleared by DOC to visit him, were not allowed to bring anything inside his hospital room, or even photograph him. 

In response, the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision canceled Feliciano’s parole warrant.

CREDIT: @LEGALAIDNYC / TWITTER

That meant that Feliciano was no longer in the custody of the state, and his family was free to visit him at their leisure. “We are relieved that the New York State Department of Correction and Community Supervision canceled the parole warrant pending against Nicholas Feliciano, our client who is still battling for his life at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens,” reads a statement from The Legal Aid Society. The organization maintains that the act is too little too late for the much more serious “concerns over the New York City Department of Correction’s failure to properly screen and address Mr. Feliciano’s mental health issues, which were known to the City at the time of his remand,” the statement continues. 

Feliciano was charged with robbery, but because of his age, the court gave him a short sentence and kept his criminal record sealed. Within weeks of his release, Feliciano had violated his parole by testing positive for drugs, skipping mandated programs, attempting to purchase a gun, and traveling past state lines to visit a girlfriend. When Feliciano arrived at his parole meeting, he was taken into custody and scheduled to be arraigned more than a month later. The Legal Aid Society of New York is using Feliciano as a tragic example for “the need for Albany to enact comprehensive parole reform legislation immediately next session to address cases like Nicholas’, where the alleged violation of parole does not rise to the level of a new criminal charge.”

Feliciano has a history of mental illness, including suicide attempts, says the Legal Aid Society. 

CREDIT: @RENTALSINMIAMI / TWITTER

According to The New York Times’s report, Feliciano was taken out of the general population holding area after getting into a fight in order to get him medical attention. He waited for six hours in a holding cell without medical attention. An hour before he attempted suicide, he was taken out of a two-person cell and placed in a cell by himself. An hour and a half later, he was hanging off a pipe while correction officers stood by. An off-duty captain saw closed-circuit surveillance footage of Feliciano hanging and rushed to take him down. According to The New York Times, an official said Feliciano didn’t have a pulse for two minutes. 

In response, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “The people in our jails are human beings. Their well-being is our responsibility. These allegations are deeply troubling. The 3 officers and their supervisor have been suspended and an investigation is underway. We’re taking immediate action.” The New York City Council voted October 17 to close Rikers prison complex and the chapter on its disturbing human rights violations.

READ: NYC Determines Layleen Polanco’s Death Might Have Had To Do With Her State In Solitary Confinement

This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

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This Guatemalan Mom Was Separated From Her Son At The Border After Enduring A Gunshot To The Face

@ajplus / Twitter

In an exclusive interview with People Magazine, a 32-year-old Guatemalan woman recounts her experience fleeing her home country in August 2017 after being shot in the face at a demonstration. Not only does the woman—who goes by the false name Daniella—describe the event that catalyzed her desire to leave Guatemala, but she tells of the many months spent traveling north, and the many months spent in a detention center after reaching the border, separated from her young son.

On August 9, 2017, Daniella and her son, Carlos, were leaving their family’s house when they encountered a large protest against a new measure that would require people to pay for water. At first the protest was peaceful—but then bullets started flying through the air. Daniella and Carlos were just passing through, but a bullet had caught Daniella in two parts of her body: the left arm, and right below the eye.

“I threw my arm around Carlos to protect him—he was covered in blood, and I started to panic,” she told People. “Little did I know that the one bleeding was me.”

Because of rampant corruption in that part of Guatemala, Daniella knew that the police wouldn’t come—they were told not to interfere. So vigilant were certain members of the demonstration that Daniella’s father received a threatening call before she even made it to a hospital. The caller told her father that if they filed a report, he would kill the whole family. Later she learned that the man who had shot her lived just three blocks away from her mother. Fortunately, when she made it to the hospital, her husband—who had moved the the U.S. five years earlier to find work, sent money for the expenses.

After more than a week in the hospital, both bullets remain in Daniella’s body to this day.

“The doctor said that if they were taken out, I could be left in a vegetative state, or I could die,” she said. “To this day I still feel pain.”

After this harrowing experience, Daniella decided that it was time to follow in her husband’s footsteps and flee to the U.S. She knew that the journey would be anything but easy, but she could have never guessed how nightmarish a month lay ahead. Traveling by truck and by bus, there were many nights spent on the side of the road. When they finally made it to the Arizona border, they were not dropped off at an immigration center, as she had expected. Instead, she and Carlos were told to climb a tree, then jump from the tree to the border wall. From there, they could reach the other side.

“I told Carlos, ‘Mijo, you have to jump.’ He was so afraid that he wouldn’t move,” she said. “I looked into my son’s eyes, and I said, ‘Son, please trust me. Everything’s going to be all right.’

After they had both made it safely to the other side, they took just a few steps before the Border Patrol arrived. They were taken into custody and dropped off at “La Hielera”—The Icebox. There, Daniella was forced to sign papers she didn’t understand, and the officer who was present told her that the children would be taken to a shelter, then given up for adoption. Naturally, all the mothers were desperately frightened by this news.

Before leaving for court that same day, Daniella said goodbye to Carlos, unsure if they would ever see each other again. She told People Magazine that she held her son and said: “You’re a champion, Papa, and you’re always going to be in my heart.”

The mothers were not immediately told the whereabouts of their children. But five months after being moved to Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, Daniella learned that Carlos was in a New Jersey foster home.

A few months later, Daniella had her official court hearing. Her bail was posted at $30,000, and after filing an appeal to extend the bail deadline, Daniella was released from custody. She had been detained for 11 months.

The organization Immigrant Families Together had gathered the money for Daniella’s bail, and they helped her get back on her feet by providing her with food and clean clothes. They also took her to the airport to fly to Virginia, where Carlos had relocated to live with his uncle, her brother.

Daniella’s story isn’t unique—roughly 30,000 people are detained in the U.S. on a given day, and these numbers have seen major upticks throughout 2019. What makes Daniella’s story remarkable is her reunion with Carlos. Many families who have been separated at the border are not nearly as lucky.

While she and Carlos continue to deal with the psychological trauma of this experience, Daniella is grateful and focused on the future.

“Without the assistance from all the people that helped me, I wouldn’t be free,” said Daniella. “Now my only focus is my family, my son, starting a new life here in California . . . I don’t have to worry about being shot again or putting my son’s life in danger.”