The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) has filed a federal lawsuit today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York challenging the New York Police Department’s use of sidewalk arrests in which persons are targeted for false arrest based on their association with or proximity to dissent and protest. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of individuals who were falsely arrested on September 24, 2011 in the first week of the Occupy Wall Street movement, including one plaintiff who was subject to Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna’s notorious pepper spray attack on peaceful demonstrators.
The lawsuit, Sterling, et al. v. City of New York, et.al., Case No. 12-CV-7086 seeks to end the New York City police tactics of arresting people lawfully present on city sidewalks and the use of orange netting and police lines to conduct indiscriminate group arrests. The lawsuit also seeks compensatory and punitive damages against NYPD officers for the false arrests and Deputy Inspector Bologna for the pepper spray assault.
"It is evident from the mass use of illegal sidewalks arrests executed yet again this weekend during OWS demonstrations that this is an unlawful tactic the NYPD will use over and over again until a Judge declares this tactic to be unconstitutional," stated Carl Messineo, Legal Director of the PCJF. "With this lawsuit, protestors are taking the offensive to stop it."
"People in New York City are entitled to engage in dissent without having to fear that they will be subject to the NYPD's illegal arrests and brutality," stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF.
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF). The PCJF also filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of more than 700 protesters who were led onto the Brooklyn Bridge and then trapped and arrested by the NYPD on October 1, 2011. Judge Jed Rakoff ruled in favor of the protesters in the Brooklyn Bridge lawsuit this summer, ordering that the officers conducting the arrests were not entitled to qualified immunity and that the case could proceed.
Calling it "One of the most pernicious and chilling forms of criminalization of free speech," the Sterling lawsuit states that "In New York City, police routinely abuse their authority to engage in the false arrest of protestors (or persons associated with protest) who are lawfully present on sidewalks."
"These unconstitutional actions send a threatening message to those engaging in political protest and to the public free speech activities are viewed as criminal by the NYPD and those who participate in demonstrations, associate with them, or are just in the vicinity, assume a risk of police violence and false arrest."
The plaintiffs were among a large number of individuals arrested on a sidewalk on East 12th Street following a peaceful OWS rally in Union Square. One of the plaintiffs was the victim of a "gratuitous and violent assault using pepper spray against protestors" by NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, according to the Complaint. The arrests and pepper spraying of trapped protestors and passersby on the sidewalk became a major media story in late September 2011 and fueled nationwide anger against police abuse of peaceful protestors.
The Complaint, Sterling, et al. v. City of New York, et.al., is available here.