When the police forced Occupy Wall Street protesters out of Zuccotti Park in November, they were accompanied by Department of Sanitation employees in big trucks who hauled off the demonstrators’ belongings. Some of that property was ultimately recovered, but thousands of dollars worth of books, computers, and other property were destroyed, prompting lawsuits against the city, the NYPD, and the Department of Sanitation.
Now, as those lawsuits wind their way through federal court, the city’s lawyers are claiming that police and Department of Sanitation employees had nothing to do with the lost or destroyed property. Instead, the city is blaming Brookfield Properties, the owner of the park.
The city is facing two lawsuits over the loss and destruction of property from the November 15 eviction: One by members of Occupy Wall Street’s People’s Library, which saw the loss or destruction of more than 2,700 books and $47,000 worth of property, and another by the livestreaming outfit Global Revolution TV, which alleges the destruction or loss of nearly 100 pieces of electronic equipment with a value of at least $45,000.
The interesting development in both these suits over the last few weeks is that the City has taken the surprising step of impleading Brookfield Properties as a third-party defendant in both suits, alleging:
“If the plaintiffs in the OWS Action were caused to sustain the damages alleged in the OWS Action through any negligence or want of due care other than the negligence or want of due care on the part of themselves, then said damages were sustained by reason of the negligence and want of due care by acts of commission or omission on the part of Brookfield, its agents, servants and/or employees.”
Specifically, the city’s response claims that Brookfield hired a carting company for the night of the eviction, and that that company took property from the park straight to a landfill, but that “City defendants played no role in, and did not authorize, the disposal of any property from Zuccotti Park.”
It’s an interesting claim, in part because it suggests a fissure in what many had assumed to be a close collaboration between City Hall and Brookfield Properties in the planning and execution of the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from the park.
It’s also tricky because there’s an abundance of evidence of the city’s Department of Sanitation removing property from the park that night, but much less of Brookfield’s alleged private contractors. Photos from that evening show men in Department of Sanitation uniforms removing property and throwing it into big trucks that bear the Department of Sanitation seal. And video shows the trucks rolling in:
“Our guys were there that night,” says Jim Grossman, a spokesman for the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Union told the Voice.
Vito Terso, a spokesman for the Sanitation Department, also confirmed the department’s involvement that night.
Brookfield has responded to the city’s third-party complaint with its own plea, admitting that it hired a cleaning service, but offering a number of defenses. Among them: that the occupiers could have avoided damages by complying with police orders; and that anyway the city, “having expressly directed Brookfield and its employees, agents, and independent contractors with respect to the events alleged of November15, 2011, are barred from obtaining the legal and equitable relief they seek on account of their own actions and culpable acts and omissions.”
“We were somewhat surprised when city impleaded Brookfield,” said Norman Siegel, a lawyer representing the Occupy Wall Street librarians. Siegel said it’s too soon to say what the city’s decision to bring Brookfield into the lawsuits means, but the upcoming discovery process should offer a good opportunity to finally find out what happened the night of the eviction.
“We want to find out what happened that night — specifically, who did what,” Siegel said. “Now we’ve got the city starting to lay out it’s version of events, and Brookfield starting to lay out its version. We’re going to learn a lot.”
More may become clear September 10, when the Library suit is scheduled for its next hearing.