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Arrests at GOP Convention Are Criticized

"They came with batons, bicycles, they came with netting," said the Rev. G. Simon Harak, a Jesuit priest. "The kind of forces you expect to be turned on terrorists was unleashed on us."

Police arrested 200 people, saying they had blocked the sidewalk.

Alexander Pincus was arrested as he was leaving a deli.

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About the same time Tuesday, several other groups of protesters started walking two abreast from Union Square, the city's historic protest soapbox, to Madison Square Garden. However, several demonstrators say -- and photographs show -- that police soon stopped them, asked them to raise their hands and arrested them.

Throughout the week, police also picked up dozens of people who appeared to have nothing to do with demonstrations, the New York Civil Liberties Union said. Among those swept up by police were several newspaper reporters, two women shopping at the Gap, a feeder company executive out for dinner with a friend, and Wendy Stefanelli, a costume designer with the TV show "Sex and the City," who was walking to get a drink with a friend.

She saw a police officer pushing a demonstrator against a wall and asked him to lay off. Police flooded the street, and she was arrested. "I don't know how this could happen," Stefanelli, 35, told the City Council last week. "I was coming from work."

Bloomberg has acknowledged that police may have arrested some innocent bystanders, but he suggested that it was partly their fault.

"If you go to where people are protesting and don't want to be part of the protest, you're always going to run the risk that maybe you'll get tied up with it," he said on a weekly radio show on WABC.

Police hauled those arrested to newly built holding cells in a former bus depot on the Hudson River. In interviews, two dozen protesters from six states described floors covered in oil and officers who denied access to family and lawyers.

During this time, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul J. Browne twice stated to The Washington Post that most protesters had been released after six or seven hours. Only on Thursday, the last day of the convention, did he acknowledge the much longer delays.

Last Friday, Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator, attributed the problems to a glut of arrests. Other city officials have spoken of state delays in processing fingerprints.

But senior police officials had said for months that they anticipated 1,000 arrests a day during the convention. Citing such warnings, state court officials, prosecutors and Legal Aid lawyers doubled staffing and opened extra courtrooms during convention week.

"What happened for several days is that we had resources available and we simply were not getting the bodies produced, the defendants in the courtroom," said David Bookstaver, spokesman for the state office of court administration.

State officials also released figures showing that they had processed 94 percent of all fingerprints within one hour.

The backlog created a legal crisis for the city. State Supreme Court Judge John Cataldo held officials in contempt of court. "These people," Cataldo said of those arrested, "have already been victims of the process."

His order resulted in the release of almost 500 people. Tricia Schriefer of Milwaukee had spent two days trying to find her daughter, Claire, 19, a college student who had been arrested Aug. 31. Tricia Schriefer called the police and city offices, only to be told that her daughter was in a legal twilight.

Her daughter was finally released -- without charges -- after Cataldo issued his ruling. "To be held for 50 hours and not be charged . . . it's pretty outrageous," Schriefer said. "It's just counter to everything I had understood about our legal process."

Since the convention ended, protesters have flocked daily into Manhattan Criminal Court, where most of them are accepting misdemeanors and violations -- charges that would typically carry no jail term. The difference between them and someone caught double-parking is that the protesters already had spent two days in jail.

"Too many New Yorkers were willing to look away," said Norman Siegal, a civil liberties lawyer who is representing Pincus. "We don't lose our rights overnight with a big bang; we lose them incrementally over time."

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