The City of New York, the New York Police Department, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and several large corporations including JPMorgan Chase have repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters, according to a wide-ranging federal lawsuit filed on Monday morning.
The NYPD made false arrests and violated free- speech rights of protestors and journalists last year, according to a complaint filed today in a Manhattan federal court.
Four New York City Councilors - Letitia James, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams - filed the civil rights lawsuit alleging that city police used excessive force and violated free speech rights as part of its crackdown on protesters. Also joining the suit as plaintiffs are a local Democratic Party official, freelance journalists, and Occupy activists.
"This unlawful conduct has been undertaken with the intention of obstructing, chilling, deterring and retaliating against (the) plaintiffs for engaging in constitutionally protected protest activity," the lawsuit alleges.
The City Council members are calling for an independent monitor to review all of the more than 2,000 OWS-related arrests and further explore the city's decision to temporarily close Zuccotti Park and other public spaces during the protests. The suit also seeks unspecified damages.
The new lawsuit is a 146-page "compendium of complaints, amplified by the council members' participation."
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The Associated Press reports:
NEW YORK — Four lawmakers sued the city Monday over its handling of the Occupy Wall Street protests, saying police conduct is so problematic that the force needs an outside monitor.
The city and police violated demonstrators' free speech rights, used excessive force, arrested protesters on dubious charges and interfered with journalists' and council members' efforts to observe what was going on, the four City Council members and others say in the federal civil rights suit.
"This unlawful conduct has been undertaken with the intention of obstructing, chilling, deterring and retaliating against (the) plaintiffs for engaging in constitutionally protected protest activity," says the suit, which was filed a day before Occupy and labor activists planned a large May Day march. [...]
"We need accountability, we need relief and we're not going to just sit idly by" - NYC City Councilor Jumaane WilliamsWhile Occupy activists have gone to court before over particular episodes in the movement's contentious history with the city, the new lawsuit is a nearly 150-page compendium of complaints, amplified by the council members' participation. A local Democratic Party official, freelance journalists and Occupy activists also are plaintiffs.
Their criticisms range from a police official's much-discussed use of pepper spray on penned-in protesters in September to the temporary removal of demonstrators from Manhattan's Union Square in March.
The council members' involvement in the Occupy suit helps dramatize its argument that police oversight is so ineffective it warrants a court-appointed monitor. The officials want an independent eye to review all of the more than 2,000 Occupy-related arrests and to explore the sometime closures of Zuccotti Park and some other public spaces.
The four lawmakers — Letitia James, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams — said they felt they needed to pursue avenues beyond City Hall to address their growing concern.
"We need accountability, we need relief and we're not going to just sit idly by," Williams said.
He and Mark-Viverito were among dozens of people who calmly sat down in a roadway near the Brooklyn Bridge during a Nov. 17 demonstration. Their disorderly conduct cases are on track to be dismissed if they avoid rearrest.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, was accused of resisting arrest while trying to get to the protesters' encampment in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park as police uprooted them Nov. 15. He emerged with visible scrapes to his head and said police assaulted him. Prosecutors recently dropped the charges against the councilman, saying they couldn't secure the testimony of a key officer in the incident.
"I feel that the NYPD misused its powers," he said.
Some state legislators also have proposed an independent inspector for the New York Police Department, citing the Occupy protests and other issues.
The lawsuit, crafted by attorneys Leo Glickman, Yetta Kurland and Wylie Stecklow, also seeks unspecified damages and court orders about access to public spaces and other issues in the case.
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Electeds, Press File Federal OWS Suit Vs NYPD, JP Morgan Chase
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Yetta Kurland 917 701 9590
Leo Glickman 917 582 1405
Wylie Stecklow 917 576 6727
Elected Officials and Members of the Press File Civil Rights Suit Against NYPD and JP Morgan Chase For Arrests Related to OWS
Federal lawsuit alleges civil rights violated by NYPD and private entities including JP Morgan Chase and Brookfield Properties asks for federal independent monitor
New York, NY. April 30, 2012 -- Lawyers on behalf of 5 elected officials and over half a dozen members of the press filed a major lawsuit today in federal court alleging the City of New York, the MTA, the New York Police Department, Brookfield Properties, JP Morgan Chase and others are in violation of numerous civil rights, including First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. The suit seeks redress for police misconduct in arrests made during the “Occupy Wall Street” protests and asks that a federal independent monitor be appointed to oversee the NYPD in order to safeguard the public.
The 143 page complaint submitted by a group of civil rights attorneys including Leo Glickman, Yetta G. Kurland and Wylie Stecklow, was filed today in United States District Court in the Southern District and includes a 24 minute video which highlights the use of excessive force and selective enforcement which many have claimed has become an issue over the past 6 months during the “Occupy” protests.
The suit also addresses the City’s relationship with JP Morgan Chase who donated $4.6 million to the NYPD during this time, as well as the fact that members of the press and elected officials have been arrested while observing and/or reporting on these protests.
One of the plaintiffs, New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez, who was bloodied and arrested on November 15, 2011 for attempting to observe the eviction of Zuccotti park stated “While my charges were dismissed, the bigger issue still remains, namely that the NYPD misused their power and did not respect my First Amendment or the NYC Charter which gave me the right to act as an observer.”
New York City Councilmember Letitia James, another plaintiff in the suit, stated “this is about accountability but it is also about ensuring that we have a proper balance of powers in this City. People should not be afraid to suffer harm from the police when they express their First Amendment right to assemble.”
New York City Councilmember Melissa Mark Viverito has also joined the suit. She stated “Some of us in the City Council are looking to address these issues legislatively, in the meantime we will avail ourselves of the United States judicial branch to ask for its help to ensure our police properly protect the public they are entrusted to serve.”
Jumaane Williams, another New York City Councilmember made the point that this effects everyone not just OWS protestors. “We hope this suit will help all New Yorkers, as well as the NYPD. We believe officers should not be put in a situation where they are asked to act in a way which results in this type of misconduct or puts them at odds with the public.”
Paul Newell, a plaintiff and Democratic District Leader for Lower Manhattan added that the police misconduct “had a chilling effect of the freedoms of speech, movement and assembly as well as quality of life in Lower Manhattan.”
John Knefel, a journalist and radio show host, who was arrested while covering a protest in the publicly-accessible Winter Garden in lower Manhattan because he didn’t have NYPD issue press credentials, is one of the plaintiffs as well. “It is of course concerning that the public is arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights, but it is likewise concerning that members of the press are arrested when they try to cover this.”
Justin Sullivan, another plaintiff and citizen press journalist who assembled the video exhibit for the suit stated “I was arrested while covering someone else being arrested for complaining about someone else being arrested for doing a ‘mic check’. This is not how our police should act.”
Attorneys and the plaintiffs will be holding a press conference at 9:45am on the steps of City Hall on Monday April 30, 2012. Copies of the complaint are available below and at http://www.scribd.com/doc/91818746/Rodrigeuz-et-al-vs-Winski-et-al-Complaint .
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