In a clear rebuke of the heavy-handed tactics of the New York Police Department, the City of New York on Tuesday agreed to pay $583,000 in damages for the false arrest of more than a dozen Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on New Years Eve in 2011.
The protesters were arrested near midnight in Manhattan for allegedly blocking pedestrian traffic after marching from a rally in Zuccotti Park. However, according to the suit, Peat v. City of New York, the police had surrounded the marchers and prevented them for dispersing.
Hailing the settlement as an affirmation of the constitutional right to protest, attorneys with the civil rights law firm Stecklow Cohen & Thompson, who argued on behalf of the protesters, said: "This systematic false arrest and misconduct by high ranking NYPD officers is a symptom of an institutional practice of chilling expressive speech activity and suppressing protest in New York City."
"The police, led by supervising officers, stopped peaceful protesters on the sidewalk, surrounded them with a blue wall of police, told them to disperse, and then arrested them before they possibly could," Attorney Wylie Stecklow continued. "This was an unacceptable violation of basic constitutional rights perpetrated by the Bloomberg-Kelly NYPD."
Marking the largest single settlement to date for an OWS-related civil rights suit in New York, the plaintiffs will each receive between $5,000 and $20,000 in compensatory damages.
"I’m glad we were able to stand up for our rights and show the NYPD that the law applies to them, as well,” said Garrett O’Connor, who was one those arrested. "Now I hope there will be an investigation into the police tactics used against the Occupy Wall Street movement."
This video documents the New Years march and arrests: