District and U.S. authorities have quietly settled the final lawsuit spawned by the mass arrest of almost 400 protesters and bystanders at a September 2002 demonstration against the World Bank, agreeing to pay $2.8 million to four former George Washington University students without admitting wrongdoing.
The settlement brings to $13.25 million the total paid to resolve litigation over protests at Pershing Park. The District paid $11 million of that amount.
The total does not include the District’s legal costs or an estimated $2.8 million it paid outside counsel in the lawsuit settled this month, people familiar with the case said.
The settlement in the final case was signed April 4 and entered last week before U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan of the District, averting a possible trial almost 14 years after the park protests led to police reforms to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters and prevent police destruction of evidence.
Earlier, the federal and District governments agreed to pay $2.2 million in 2015 and $8.25 million in 2010, respectively, and to undertake policy overhauls to resolve class-action litigation.
D.C. police apologized and abandoned “trap and detain” tactics in which officers surrounded and arrested large groups of people close to demonstrations. In the Sept. 27, 2002, incident the tactics left some individuals tied wrist to ankle and detained as long as 24 hours.
U.S. Park Police also set new procedures dealing with warnings, individualized probable cause and escape avenue requirements for managing protests.
Enhanced police training has reduced conflict in District protests, including recent demonstrations related to the Black Lives Matter movement, after an era that included Pershing Park and anti-globalization protests as well as demonstrations over the 2000 presidential election; 9/11 terrorist attacks; and Iraq War protests.
Under the latest settlement terms, the District will pay $110,000 and the United States $5,000 each to plaintiffs RayMing Chang, then a GWU law student, and student newspaper photographers Young Choi, Leanne Lee and Chris Zarconi. The District will pay $2.35 million to their attorneys with the Bryan Cave law firm and GWU law professor Jonathan Turley.
In a statement on behalf of the plaintiffs, Turley called the settlement the largest award to individuals in a case of this kind.
He said the lawsuit brought “to light the destruction and withholding of evidence in the case for the review of the court and the public. The court, city council, and the public can now judge that record for themselves and take whatever action they deem appropriate.”
The office of Attorney General Karl A. Racine said in a statement, “We are pleased that we have now brought this case to resolution.”