52 activists who charged that they had been illegally arrested and detained in an April 7, 2003 anti-war demonstration on West 56th Street settled today with the City, which will pay them $2 million.
Kunstler et alia v. New York City charged that, in the demo in front of the offices of the Carlyle Group — an investment firm familiar to viewers of Fahrenheit 911 — the protesto]ers were arrested despite having broken no laws, and were detained for an unreasonably long time.
“Instead of treating plaintiffs with the respect due all citizens exercising their core First Amendment rights,” said the complaint filed in February 2004, “defendants chose to punish plaintiffs for having the temerity to question and criticize our government.” Also, “Defendants threatened plaintiffs with prolonged detention if they did not cooperate and answer all questions.”
As a result, the complaint continued, “Many [plaintiffs] are now hesitant to attend, and some have chosen not to attend anti-war and/or anti-Bush Administration protests for fear of being unlawfully arrested, detained, and questioned again by the NYPD.”
The settlement is steep, but the City has paid steeper. A 2004 Los Angeles Times article reported that City corporation counsel Michael Cardozo’s “annual budget is $560 million to pay off lawsuit judgments or settlements.” Despite that article’s concentration on allegedly frivolous lawsuits returned in the City’s favor, the City does make plenty of payouts, sometimes big ones: in 2006 it was fined $5.7 million for violating the Clean Water Act, a decision upheld upon appeal.
It’s anyone’s guess whether the NYPD, which used tactics similar to ones complained of in Kunstler during the 2004 Republican Convention, will change its ways because of this. According to Newsday, “City Law Department senior counsel Susan Halatyn said the city did not admit liability in the settlement.”
Image adapted from a Flickr photo by keithburtis under a Creative Commons license.