Three appeals have been filed in the Attica prison rebellion case, a development that could cause a lengthy delay in the distribution of $8 million to former inmates and their families.
One former inmate, and family members of two others, have filed appeals objecting to U.S. District Judge Michael A. Telesca's plan for dividing the $8 million that New York State is paying to settle a lawsuit over police actions at the prison in September 1971.
Parties in the lawsuit had until Wednesday to appeal Telesca's Aug. 28 plan for distributing the money. Three appeals have been filed, court officials said Friday afternoon.
"We are aware of the appeals, and it's very discouraging," said Ellen M. Yacknin, one of the attorneys representing former inmates and their heirs. "These appeals will put the whole process on hold. We hope these cases will be expedited in the appeals court, but it could take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years to litigate."
Appeals were filed by:
Former inmate Ooji Kwesi Sekou, also known as Chris Reed, who was shot four times when police stormed the prison to take control away from rebel inmates on Sept. 13, 1971. After being shot, Reed was beaten and tortured, and lime was thrown into his eyes and his gunshot wounds. His leg had to be amputated. Reed was one of 15 former inmates who received the largest awards -- $125,000 -- from Telesca, but he feels the award is insufficient.
Melvin Spinoza, a cousin by marriage of the late Robert Hanigan, one of the inmates shot to death by police during the retaking. Spinoza, of Spring Hill, Fla., is objecting to a ruling made by Telesca last month, saying that Spinoza is not a legal heir to Hanigan.
Wanda Braithwaite-Baril, the daughter of ex-inmate Donald Brown, who was beaten and injured by police during the retaking. Baril, of Monmouth, Maine, claims the $6,500 her family was awarded is insufficient.
There has been much dispute among former inmates about Telesca's plan to distribute the settlement cash, but the vast majority of the 502 ex-inmates and heirs affected by the case decided not to appeal.
Under Telesca's plan, 260 of the former inmates will receive $6,500 each; 112 will receive $10,000 each; 95 will receive $31,000 each; 20 will receive $25,000 each; and 15, including Reed, will receive $125,000 each.
Telesca said he tried to base the damage awards on the amount of conscious suffering endured by each of the inmates who were shot, beaten or tortured when state police stormed the prison several days after prisoners rioted, killing a guard and taking 31 hostages.
Sharon Fischer, a Buffalo legal aide who helped many of the ex-inmates file court papers in the case, said she understands why some would want to file appeals.
But in the long run, she said, the appeals will delay needy ex-inmates from receiving their damage awards.
"I would certainly say, out of all the people who were injured at Attica, Ooji (Reed) has much reason as anyone to be unhappy," Fischer said. "They shot him, they tortured him. He lost his leg. He should get ten times more than $125,000. But he is already getting the highest award of anyone. And if he gets more, where is that money going to come from?"
Fischer said it is a tragedy that lawyers who worked on the Attica case recently received more than $750,000 in fees from the settlement, "while the guys who were injured have yet to see their first penny."
The three appeals cases will be argued at the Second Circuit Appeals Court in New York City. After they are decided, court officials can take steps toward distributing the $8 million in damages.