NYC settles for $583K with 14 Occupy protesters who said police wrongfully arrested them

Jennifer Peltz / The Associated Press
June 10, 2014 09:17 AM

FILE- In this Dec. 31, 2011 file photo, police arrest a protester in New York as Occupy Wall Street protesters march in lower Manhattan. New York City has agreed to pay nearly $600,000 to settle allegations that police wrongfully arrested a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters, marking the largest settlement to date in a single Occupy-related civil rights case, the marchers' lawyers said Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Stephanie Keith, File)

NEW YORK, N.Y. - New York City has agreed to pay nearly $600,000 to settle allegations that police wrongfully arrested a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters, marking the largest settlement to date in an Occupy-related civil rights lawsuit, the marchers' lawyers said Tuesday.

The protests against economic inequality inspired similar protests around the U.S. and the world.

The $583,000 pact involves 14 demonstrators who said police ordered them to leave but prevented them from doing so and arrested them in lower Manhattan early on New Year's Day 2012. The disorderly conduct cases got dismissed, according to the protesters' federal lawsuit, which argues they were arrested "for expressing their views."

"We were out there to send a message, and our rights were suppressed," one of the demonstrators, Garrett O'Connor, said Tuesday. The 34-year-old labour activist said police tackled him to the ground as he tried to follow their order to clear out.

The city didn't immediately comment Tuesday, but it has said the arrests were lawful. A city lawyer had said at a court conference in November that the arrests followed "a very rowdy and tumultuous march," according to a transcript.

The march unfurled after a restive New Year's Eve in Zuccotti Park, the lower Manhattan plaza where the anti-economic-inequality Occupy protesters had set up camp from the previous September until the city rousted them that November. Some 68 people were arrested there on that New Year's Eve when police said the protesters tore down barricades surrounding the park.

Shortly after midnight, some others set off to walk en masse to Manhattan's East Village.

A city lawyer called the march "rowdy and tumultuous" at a court date last fall, according to a transcript. But the protesters' lawsuit says they behaved peacefully and obeyed traffic laws, and police at times blocked traffic to let them cross streets safely together.

But then, in the East Village, officers boxed them in and made arrests, the suit says.

Video supplied by their lawyers, the firm Stecklow Cohen & Thompson, shows officers saying the demonstrators are blocking the sidewalk and will be arrested if they don't leave, while some of the protesters ask how they can. Some footage show police pointing out ways the demonstrators can go; subsequent parts show arrests beginning.

Police have made more than 2,600 arrests on various charges at Occupy-related events over time. The Manhattan district attorney's office agreed to dismiss more than 78 per cent of the cases, mostly on condition that defendants stay of trouble for six months. Among the other cases, more than 400 people pleaded guilty or were convicted at trials, and 11 were acquitted, according to the DA's office. A few other cases were dismissed by judges.

There's no official list of Occupy-related settlements, but lawyers involved track them informally. They include $230,000 that the city and Zuccotti Park's private owner are paying over allegations that a book collection was trashed when the park was cleared, and $55,000 to a man arrested while shooting video at an Occupy demonstration, according to lawyers in those cases.

In the latest settlement, the individual protesters are receiving $5,000 to $20,000 apiece, and their lawyers $333,000 for fees and costs, the attorneys said.

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