NEW YORK – The city has agreed to pay nearly $600,000 to settle allegations that police wrongfully arrested a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters, marking the largest settlement to date in an Occupy-related civil rights lawsuit, the marchers' lawyers said Tuesday.
The $583,000 pact involves 14 demonstrators who said police ordered them to leave but prevented them from doing so and arrested them in lower Manhattan early on New Year's Day 2012. The disorderly conduct cases got dismissed, according to the protesters' federal lawsuit, which argues they were arrested "for expressing their views."
"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 their lawyers, Wylie Stecklow, said in a statement. "This was an unacceptable violation of basic constitutional rights."
The city didn't immediately comment. A city lawyer had said at a court conference in November that the arrests followed "a very rowdy and tumultuous march," according to a transcript.
The protesters had convened on Dec. 31, 2011, in Zuccotti Park, the lower Manhattan plaza where the anti-economic-inequality Occupy protesters had set up camp from the previous September until the city rousted them that November. Shortly after midnight, some of those at the New Year's Eve gathering set off to walk en masse to Manhattan's East Village.
The lawsuit says they behaved peacefully, obeyed traffic laws and believed police had given them tacit approval to walk together on the sidewalk, as officers had at times blocked traffic to let them cross streets safely together.
But then, in the East Village, officers boxed them in and made arrests, the suit says.
Video supplied by their lawyers, the firm Stecklow Cohen & Thompson, shows officers saying the demonstrators are blocking the sidewalk and will be arrested if they don't leave, while some of the protesters ask how they can. Some footage show police pointing out ways the demonstrators can go; subsequent parts show arrests beginning.
Police have made more than 2,600 arrests on various charges at Occupy-related events over time. The Manhattan district attorney's office agreed to dismiss more than 78 percent of the cases, mostly on condition that defendants stay of trouble for six months. Among the other cases, more than 400 people pleaded guilty or were convicted at trials, and 11 were acquitted, according to the DA's office. A few other cases were dismissed by judges.