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Taxpayers Off The Hook For GOP Convention Lawsuits

Critics say the agreement has only encouraged police to use aggressive tactics knowing they won't have to pay damages.

by Ryan J. Foley

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Taxpayers should be off the hook for any damages stemming from claims of police misconduct related to the Republican National Convention under a first-of-its-kind agreement.

The deal required the Republican Party's host committee to buy insurance covering up to $10 million in damages and unlimited legal costs for law enforcement officials accused of brutality, violating civil rights and other misconduct.

Other cities who hosted conventions in recent years - including Denver, Boston, New York and Philadelphia - either covered those costs from their general budgets or used tax money to buy insurance policies.

But St. Paul officials, led by Mayor Chris Coleman, insisted the committee use its private donations to purchase the insurance policy. They had some leverage because the party had named St. Paul as the location for the convention before striking the city services agreement in January 2007.

"The negotiating team, with the mayor's encouragement, took the firm ground that we had to have the police professional liability insurance paid for by someone other than city taxpayers," said City Attorney John Choi. "Ultimately, and reluctantly on the host committee's part, we were able to secure that."

The deal could save taxpayers millions. Police have arrested nearly 300 people, and many protesters are threatening lawsuits. New York City still faces more than 400 lawsuits from some of the 1,800 people arrested at the 2004 GOP convention, said Laura Postiglione, a spokeswoman in the city's law department.

In St. Paul, some critics say the agreement has only encouraged police to use aggressive tactics knowing they won't have to pay damages.

"It's an extraordinary agreement. Now the police have nothing to hold them back from egregious behavior," said Michelle Gross, who leads Communities United Against Police Brutality. She is considering filing suit after being handcuffed and searched last week during a raid of the St. Paul hub of an anarchist group.


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