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​NYC to pay $18 mil for RNC arrests in largest protest settlement in US history

Published time: January 16, 2014 03:19
A group of people take part in a candlelight vigil during a protest in New York's Union Square Park, September 2, 2004. The protest was held on the last day of the Republican National Convention. (AFP Photo)

A group of people take part in a candlelight vigil during a protest in New York's Union Square Park, September 2, 2004. The protest was held on the last day of the Republican National Convention. (AFP Photo)

New York City has agreed to pay $18 million for the arrest, detention and fingerprinting of hundreds of protesters, journalists and legal observers during the 2004 Republican National Convention, marking the largest protest settlement ever in the US.

In late-August 2004, over 1,800 lawful demonstrators, legal advisors, journalists and bystanders were caught up in the New York Police Department’s mass arrests outside the Republican Party’s 2004 convention, where George W. Bush was preparing to defend the White House amid two divisive wars abroad.

About a month later, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed the initial two lawsuits connected with the vast sweep. Other civil rights groups joined the NYCLU in challenging the arrests.

The terms of the settlement - the largest for a protest in history, according to the NYCLU - were announced Wednesday, though ultimately must be approved by a federal judge.

The NYPD’s mass detainments of peaceful protesters in 2004 were followed by lengthy detentions and wholesale fingerprinting of everyone it jailed at a “filthy, toxic pier that had been a bus depot,” as the NYCLU described the conditions of arrest.

“No lawful protester should ever be treated like a criminal in New York City, or anywhere else in the United States,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “This historic settlement must serve as a reminder to New York City and government across the country that the right to protest is a fundamental pillar of a fair and functioning democracy. And it is the role of government and law enforcement to not only tolerate protest, but protect and defend it.”

The NYCLU filed the first two lawsuits connected to the Convention in October 2004: one from a mass arrest of 226 people on a sidewalk near the World Trade Center and the other from a mass arrest of 400 people near Union Square. The lawsuits challenged the manner of the arrests, the extended detention and the mandatory fingerprinting of all swept up amid both incidents.

Lawyers for New York City defended the NYPD, saying 800,000 people demonstrated during the Convention and only a small sample of that number were arrested, AP reported.

In October 2012, a federal District Court ruled that the former mass arrest was unconstitutional and that the latter was impermissible. Judge Richard Sullivan asked the city and plaintiffs in many Convention cases yet settled at the time to reach an agreement.

As a provision of the settlement, the city has agreed to drop all appeals it filed following the October 2012 decision.

“While no amount of money can undo the damage inflicted by the NYPD’s actions during the Convention, we hope and expect that this enormous settlement will help assure that what happened in 2004 will not happen again,” said the NYCLU’s lead counsel in the cases, Christopher Dunn.

Plaintiffs in the initial lawsuits were held anywhere from 13 to nearly 24 hours, some in the shoddy, makeshift NYPD holding site at Pier 57, the NYCLU said.