D.C. Settles Suit Over Protest Arrests
Thursday, March 1, 2007
The District has agreed to pay $200,000 to four people rounded up in the wave of arrests made by D.C. police during a September 2002 protest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The settlement resolves one of several lawsuits stemming from the mass arrests. The city earlier agreed to pay more than $440,000 to 10 people who said they were illegally arrested at Pershing Park, and a class-action suit is pending.
The four plaintiffs -- Jeffrey Barham, Miles Swanson, Brian McAteer and Laury Saligman -- were arrested at Vermont and K streets NW, near the park. Each will be paid $ 50,000, said their attorney, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice. The overall payout will be larger because the city will cover the plaintiffs' legal fees for four years of litigation.
Barham and Swanson were law students working as legal observers for the National Lawyers Guild, McAteer was a high school student who was filming the protest, and Saligman was a cyclist who happened upon the protest when they were arrested. They filed suit in U.S. District Court.
The settlement also calls for new protocols to guard against abuse of police power. Under the terms, D.C. police officers who are assigned to the Special Operations Division, which is in charge of patrolling major demonstrations, will be required to sign statements confirming that they are familiar with the D.C. laws governing public protests.
"We want to ensure that not only is there a law on the books, but there's a law that's obeyed and that police officers who have a responsibility for protests can't try to skirt the law by claiming ignorance," Verheyden-Hilliard said.
In 2004, the D.C. Council passed the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act, largely in response to the arrests on Sept. 27, 2002, most notably at Pershing Park, where more than 400 people were arrested without warning.
Charles H. Ramsey, the police chief at the time, came in for withering criticism for the decision to undertake mass arrests. He later admitted the arrests were improper.
In November, the city agreed to pay $685,000 to settle another lawsuit over police conduct at demonstrations, this one involving the treatment of protesters at President Bush's inauguration in 2001.
More than 80 percent of that money was to go toward legal fees, with the rest going to two people hit with pepper spray.
The settlement reached yesterday will mandate that special operations officers understand the assemblies provision of the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act.