NYC Sued for Systematic Civil Rights Violations During Occupy Protests

by David Walker

Occupy Wall street protesters, New York City council members, and several journalists have filed suit against the City of New York, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, JP Morgan Chase and other defendants, alleging widespread civil rights violations during the Occupy Wall Street process in 2011. The lawsuit was filed today in Federal District Court in New York City.

The plaintiffs--including photojournalists Stephanie Keith, Charles Meacham, the National Press Photographers Association, several citizen journalists and five New York City council members--allege that the New York City Police Department violated their First, Fourth, and Fourteen amendment rights during Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

"The City of New York in concert with various private and public entities have employed Officers of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and others acting under color of state law, to intentionally and willfully subject Plaintiffs and the public to, among other things, violation of rights of free speech, assembly, freedom of the press, false arrest, excessive forces, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution and, furthermore, purposefully obstructing plaintiffs carrying out their duties as elected officials and members of the press," the lawsuit asserts.

It goes on to say that police conduct was intended to obstruct, chill, deter and retaliate against the plaintiffs for engaging in "constitutionally protected activity." It accuses the NYPD of  unreasonable search and seizure of the individual defendants (a Fourth Amendment violation) and deprivation of due process (a Fourteenth Amendment violation.)

The plaintiffs are seeking an unspecified amount of "compensatory and monetary damages," as well as injunctions to force the NYPD to allow citizens to protest peacefully in public spaces, and to prevent the police from barring the access of journalists to protests.

The suit includes allegations of specific acts of police misconduct against each individual defendant. More generally, it alleges that police prevented citizens from gathering lawfully and peacefully in public spaces; that police violated privacy by retaining photographs of protesters who were arrested then released without charges; that police detained people for extended periods without charges; that police charged the plaintiffs without probable cause, and for crimes not committed; that police used excessive force to discourage people from exercising free speech and other constitutional rights; and that police justified the use of excessive force under false pretenses.

It also alleges that police barred journalists from covering the eviction of protesters from Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011. "The NYPD's use of force in general, and against journalists in particular is on-going and well-documented," the lawsuit alleges, with references to many reports about police conduct.

it also paints a picture of the NYPD as an unaccountable, insular organization that covers up the misconduct of individual police officers. "These practices, policies and customer engender perverse incentive for officers to commit acts of misconduct against civilians without consequences," the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit goes on to say, "by employing the NYPD in its present condition to police protests while failing to provide meaningful avenues of police accountability, the [City of New York] chills each plaintiff, and indeed each citizen, from engaging in Constitutionally protected speech by setting up the NYPD, in effect, as the arbiter of the content of speech in a democratic society."

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Photogs Arrested in Raid on Occupy Protest in Zuccotti Park

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