WASHINGTON - March 25 - Miami, FL - A civil lawsuit was filed today in federal court challenging the "Miami model," a deliberate and coordinated effort by local, state and federal "authorities" to silence dissent through an unwarranted use of force and by unlawfully arresting hundreds of people engaging in protests against a controversial trade agreement, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Attorneys working with Miami Activist Defense (MAD) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) filed the lawsuit to stop the "model" in its tracks so that it can no longer be used to restrict mass protests around the country.
The Defendants named in the lawsuit, accused of First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment Rights violations, include the City of Miami, Mayors Manny Diaz and Alex Penelas, Police Chief John Timoney, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle, Secretary of Homeland Defense Tom Ridge, US Attorney General John Ashcroft. The lawsuit explains how these entities and others engaged in an orchestrated plan to arrest people on baseless charges and to hold them in preventive detention thereby prohibiting First Amendment activity and violating the Fifth Amendment right to due process.
"This lawsuit blows open the unlawful way in which police profiled and targeted activists and people who were in Miami to protest the FTAA," said Carol Sobel, an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee. "Anyone who fit the police description of being anti-FTAA was subject to harassment, abuse, and unlawful arrest."
The lawsuit states that it "challenge[s] the mass false arrests of, and unreasonable force against, lawful demonstrators during the recent protests of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in November 2003 in Miami." It also conveys how "Law enforcement coordinated an all out assault on the First Amendment, engaging in widespread political profiling, and swept the streets of anyone viewed as being an anti-FTAA activist, effectively suspending the Fourth Amendment in the city for ten days."
The lawsuit challenges the local and state statutes used to arrest hundreds of people as unconstitutional, as well as the way in which they were used to illegally stifle mass protest. In essence, the lawsuit challenges the legal justification for, and validity of, the hundreds of arrests that took place during the FTAA.
"Every FTAA-related criminal case currently being prosecuted by the State Attorney is a sham," said Kris Hermes of MAD. "It's time to stop maliciously prosecuting people for their involvement in the FTAA protests. Taxpayer money could certainly be put to better use."
Despite the millions of federal dollars used to implement the coordinated campaign by law enforcement, illustrated in the lawsuit, and the continuing expenditure to try cases, the State Attorney's fervent efforts have yet to result in more than one misdemeanor conviction. Less than half of the over two hundred cases remain.
The plaintiff group currently consists of 21 people, but is likely to increase as more allegations become known and are added to the suit. Plaintiffs are seeking injunctive relief as well as financial damages due to the numerous rights violations.
Counsel for the plaintiffs includes: Carol Sobel, Jonathan Moore, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Carl Messineo of the NLG Mass Defense Committee; Andrea Costello and Robert Ross are working with both MAD and the NLG
For an on-line version of the complaint filed in federal court today see: www.stopftaa.org/legal