New York City has reached the largest Occupy Wall Street-related settlement to date with 14 protesters, agreeing to pay up almost $600,000 to resolve allegations that police illegally arrested them back in 2012.
The legal dispute revolved around arrests made on January 1, 2012, when Occupy protesters made their way from the city’s Zuccotti Park, where the movement originated, to East Village. There, the demonstrators were surrounded by New York City Police Department officers and told they were blocking the sidewalk.
According to NBC New York, the lawsuit alleged that police told the protesters they had to leave or face arrest. Leaving, however, turned out to be more difficult than it should have been, as the Occupy members and their attorneys claimed police did not actually allow them to leave the sidewalk.
"The police, led by supervising officers, stopped peaceful protesters on the sidewalk, surrounded them with a blue wall of police, told them to disperse, and then arrested them before they possibly could," one of the lawyers, Wylie Stecklow, said in a statement to NBC New York. "This was an unacceptable violation of basic constitutional rights."
According to the Gothamist website, unnamed sources confirmed the case was actually set to go to trail before a senior NYPD official gave a deposition in which he “was unable to point out in videos of the event a single moment when any of the defendants committed any act of disorderly conduct.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the city will pay the protesters and their attorneys $583,000 to settle the dispute. Individual payments range from $5,000 up to $20,000, with attorneys collecting about $330,000 to account for the case’s expenses.
The latest payout comes in addition to previous settlements, which saw the city pay more than $82,000 to a protester who was physically assaulted by police. A separate case also led to the city paying $350,000 for damaging equipment during its eviction of demonstraters in Zuccotti Park.
Speaking with the New York Daily News, protester and plaintiff Garrett O’Connor said the settlement was a vindication of sorts for Occupy members who have been portrayed as unlawful.
“This adds to the redemption of the identity of Occupy Wall Street," he said (O’Conner was awarded $20,000). "We've often been seen as out of control and disorderly, and this was a demonstration that was quite the opposite...and our rights were suppressed."
Meanwhile, another attorney for the plaintiffs, David Thompson, told Gothamist that the recent settlement is just another example that reveals the need for reform within the NYPD.
“The mass arrest of nonviolent protesters has no place in any democracy,” Thompson said. “Arresting nonviolent protesters helps to protect the true wrongdoers, who are the people, politicians and institutions that have corrupted our economic and political life. The NYPD pursued a policy of arresting thousands of people who were doing nothing wrong.”