Sunday, February 14, 2010

Footnote to the preceding

Or, the empire is struck back.

Just for the record, it doesn't always work out the way they wanted and arbitrary abuse of power does not always go unpunished. At least in the District of Columbia, from which all three of these examples come. This is old news, but I just learned about the cases yesterday, so it's new to me.

1) On April 15, 2000, the International Action Center staged a demonstration as part of a weekend of actions at a meeting of the IMF/World Bank. In response,
police illegally closed a whole downtown block in Washington and arrested 678 demonstrators, tourists, shoppers and passers-by in what has been described as the largest act of preventive detention in recent decades in the United States.
Most of the cases were later dismissed, but the DA pushed the case against the group's co-director, Brain Becker. That may have been a big mistake, as that September, Becker was acquitted by the judge, who found the government had failed to prove that the demonstrators had engaged in "unlawful assembly." With that as part of the record, the more recent news is less surprising than it might have been:
The District of Columbia has agreed to pay $13.7 million to settle a class action suit brought by protesters arrested during a demonstration in 2000, lawyers in the case announced at court today[, November 23, 2009].

Lawyers for the protesters said it would be the largest amount ever paid in the U.S. to compensate protesters who were wrongfully arrested. ...

[Mara] Verheyden-Hilliard[, of the Partnership for Civil Justice, which filed the suit in 2001,] said she believed that U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman’s decision to set a trial date had pushed the District to settle.

“Faced with the reality of trial and a potentially huge loss, the district was able to come to the table,” she said.
2) In 2002, police wrongfully arrested and interrogated eight individuals during a demonstration against the Iraq war. In November 2009, the city agreed to pay them $450,000 in compensation.

3) On September 27, 2002, a protest against the World Bank was taking place in Pershing Park. Police surrounded the gathering and prevented anyone from leaving. Then, without warning or providing a chance to "disperse," police arrested some 400 people.
[S]ome were hogtied and held for more than 24 hours before being released.
Officials seemed to realize almost immediately that this was, to put it mildly, a big mistake. The captain of the US Park Police said he told a DC police official that he wouldn't carry out the arrests. The District refused to prosecute a single case.
Within the next two years, the D.C. Council investigated Pershing Park and released their own scathing assessment. The Council concluded that then-Chief Charles Ramsey had lied, and police officials had engaged in a cover-up of the incident.

Eventually, the case became all about the cover up. A federal judge would slam the the Office of the Attorney General and the D.C. Police Department's general counsel for withholding thousands of pages of discovery documents. The police department's running resume, a moment-by-moment chronicling of police activity on Sept. 27, went missing. Radio dispatches turned over to plaintiffs contained mysterious gaps.
The upshot was that two months ago, on December 16, the city settled a class action suit, agreeing to a payout of $8.25 million and to a series of improvements related to record-keeping - about which officials are required to report every six months to the Partnership for Civil Justice, a nonprofit civil rights organization which represented to plaintiffs in all three cases.

Footnote: The Pershing Park saga is not over.
Four bystanders rounded up by police that day are represented by separate lawyers and are not part of the class-action suit.

One of their attorneys, Jonathan Turley, said he is scheduled to meet with [DC Attorney General Peter] Nickles for the first time Tuesday[, December 15,] to discuss a possible settlement. But he seems to be itching for a courtroom brawl.

"We are preparing for trial," Turley said.
Go get 'em, Jonathan.

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