City to Pay $1 Million Over Arrests at Protest

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

The D.C. government has agreed to pay $1 million to a group of people who claimed they were illegally arrested during a protest in the city five years ago.

U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan signed off yesterday on a judgment that settles a suit filed on behalf of more than 120 demonstrators and bystanders -- the latest payout by the city for police actions during the Sept. 27, 2002, demonstrations against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the planned Iraq invasion.

Sullivan declared the arrests "null and void" and ordered police to expunge any records of them.

The settlement was the largest to date stemming from the controversial mass arrests that day. The city had agreed to pay more than $640,000 to settle lawsuits filed by 14 others who said they were illegally rounded up by police.

A larger class-action lawsuit is pending, covering more than 400 people who say they were illegally arrested at Pershing Park.

Charles H. Ramsey, who was police chief at the time, initially defended the arrests but later acknowledged that they were improper. Police failed to order the crowds to disperse or warn that they faced arrest.

Yesterday's developments came in a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area and the National Lawyers Guild. The plaintiffs were arrested during marches on Connecticut Avenue NW between K and L streets, and near Vermont Avenue and K Street. Some were bystanders caught in the commotion.

Most were charged with parading without a permit, said Arthur Spitzer, an ACLU legal director.

Plans call for each plaintiff to get at least $6,000. Sixteen plaintiffs who gave depositions or testified will get an additional $5,000 apiece. The rest of the money will go toward attorney and legal fees.

Several of those arrested said that although the outcome brings closure, it doesn't erase what happened that day from their minds.

Sofiya Goldshteyn, then a George Washington University student from Ukraine, never made it to her work-study job that day. Instead, she said, she endured plastic handcuffs that were too tight, hunger, filthy water, cold concrete floors, strip-searches and fear that she would be deported.

Videographer Robin Bell, 28, had his press credentials ripped off by police.

"Because we were showing people getting arrested on national TV, we got a little extra treatment," he said yesterday.

Former law enforcement officer Joel Diamond, 63, is still upset that he couldn't participate in the weekend's demonstrations because he was in jail for almost two days. "This is not America," he said.

Rebekah Rice, 53, was watching the protest march with her then-16-year-old niece when the two were arrested and held for 36 hours by officers who she said looked like "giant bugs or Darth Vader" in their riot gear. Each year since, Rice, a teacher in Upstate New York, had to report and explain the arrest on her annual contract.

Her niece, Catherine Burgin, had promised her parents that she wouldn't do anything that would get her arrested.

"Suddenly, they just swarmed us," said Burgin, 21. "Anyone who wanted to leave couldn't."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company