Judge approves protest settlement
A federal judge gave final approval Wednesday to a settlement in which the D.C. government will pay $8.25 million to almost 400 protesters and bystanders swept up in a mass arrest at Pershing Park during a September 2002 demonstration against the World Bank.
Together with a $13.7 million approved in April for another 700 people arrested by D.C. police using similar tactics in April 2000, the $22 million paid by the D.C. government is the largest protest settlement ever paid out by a municipal government in the United States, according to the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, which brought the cases.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District said the "historic settlement" would help protect "future generations of protesters" and their "First Amendment rights in the way, I am sure, the Founders intended."
"We have changed the landscape for protestors in the nation's capital and for the better," said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founder of the partnership. "The results of these constitutional rights lawsuits also send a message nationwide, that there will be a significant price to pay for violations of fundamental free speech rights."
"We're glad the case is resolved," George Valentine, a lawyer for the city, said in brief remarks before the judge acted. "We fully support the settlement and look forward to the court giving it final approval."
The agreement settles complaints that D.C. police violated the constitutional rights of 386 people arrested without warning in Pershing Park on Sept. 27, 2002, leaving some hog-tied wrist to ankle and detained as long as 24 hours. Former D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey eventually apologized, and the Metropolitan Police Department abandoned so-called "trap and detain" tactics -- adopted in a period that saw the controversial 2000 presidential election; 9/11 terrorist attacks; and anti-globalization and anti-Iraq war protests --in which officers surrounded and arrested large groups of people close to demonstrations.
The D.C. Council passed new limits on police powers in 2005, and imposed requirements for police training and retention of dispatch, video and command center data and materials collected in demonstration cases to prevent destruction of evidence.
A court-ordered investigation into the District's loss of records -- including a key log of police actions and radio dispatch recordings -- is ongoing under threat of possible referral for criminal investigation.
Under terms reached last December pending final court approval, about 85 percent of 355 class action members have agreed to participate and will split $4.8 million (receiving about $16,000 each); 17 named plaintiffs receive $850,000, or $50,000 each; and lawyers will get $2.5 million, all from taxpayers. The District government has also paid more than $1 million for its own legal costs. The agreement releases all D.C. officials, including Ramsey and assistant chief Peter J. Newsham from any personal liability.
The city also agreed to expunge arrest records of those detained. The D.C.
Council has prohibited police arrests for "parading" or demonstrating without a permit, set a four-hour standard for release of protest-related arrests and requires written disclosure in such cases of arrestees' rights to speedy release.
-- Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Editors
| September 22, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories: From the Courthouse, Spencer S. Hsu, The District
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