City Settles Lawsuits in RNC Arrests for $18 Million

, New York Law Journal

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Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, speaks at a press conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to announce a settlement with New York City for the arrests that occurred at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Behind him are Jonathan Moore and Rose Weber, two of the other principal plaintiffs lawyers in the case.
Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, speaks at a press conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to announce a settlement with New York City for the arrests that occurred at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Behind him are Jonathan Moore and Rose Weber, two of the other principal plaintiffs lawyers in the case.

The first mass arrest of 225 demonstrators, part of a march organized by the War Resisters League, occurred on Fulton Street between Church and Broadway and headed toward Madison Square Garden on Aug. 31, just after 4 p.m. The arrests became the case of Schiller v. City of New York, 04 Civ. 7922 (NYLJ, June 1, 2012).

Then, some three hours later, hundreds of protestors who had moved into the roadway on East 16th Street between Irving Place and Union Square were swept up by police in what became the case Dinler v. City of New York, 04 Civ. 7921.

Between 8 and 10 p.m. that same night, police arrested a number of people on West 17th Street and Union Square, including people who said they were bystanders, in what became the case of MacNamara v. City of New York, 04 Civ. 9216.

The name plaintiff in that case, Deirdre MacNamara, said at City Hall Wednesday she was arrested on 17th Street while going to "get a milkshake" at a local fast food restaurant and then held for 50 hours on the pier.

Police said people were marching in the street without a permit, but demonstrators said they were not given a chance to disperse.

Before Sullivan, Special Assistant Corporation Counsel Peter Farrell argued people indeed had the opportunity to disperse, and police were forced to take action to clear the streets. Farrell told Sullivan that "the indisputable message of the Republican National Convention was that 800,000 people demonstrated without incident and just 1,800 people, or 'less than .2 percent'" were arrested.

Sullivan said the percentage of those arrested was hardly relevant to the question of whether the probable cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment was met. But Sullivan said he thought the police did a good job during the convention, "nothing blew up" and people were able to protest.

Sullivan issued his rulings in October 2012 (NYLJ, Oct. 2, 2012).

He granted summary judgment to the Fulton Street marchers, finding they had been given contradictory instructions by police and essentially forced into the street. The judge denied summary judgment to both sides on the East 16th Street arrests, finding it an open question of fact as to whether protesters had an opportunity to disperse.

"Dispersal orders play an important, though not essential, role in making such individualized determinations of probable cause," Sullivan wrote. "Although the Court declines to find that a dispersal order is an absolute prerequisite under the Fourth Amendment to finding that all arrestees in a mass arrest are violating the law, it nevertheless recognizes that police efforts to sort lawbreakers from bystanders, and to advise the latter that they should leave, are highly probative of whether it would be reasonable to conclude that every person arrested violated the law."

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