Victory in two major class-action civil liberties lawsuits

Victory in two major class-action civil liberties lawsuits

After nearly seven years of class action litigation, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund is pleased to announce a victorious $8.25 million settlement on behalf of a class of nearly 400 persons who were arrested in Pershing Park in Washington, D.C., in September 2002, Barham, et al. v Ramsey, et al.

This settlement follows directly on the heels of the historic $13.7 million settlement involving the class action lawsuit on behalf of nearly 700 persons arrested in April 2000 in Washington, D.C, Becker, et al. v District of Columbia, et al. Both settlements with the District of Columbia also include equitable relief provisions requiring changes in police practices and procedures as well as expungement of arrest records. In both settlements, eligible arrestees will receive about $18,000 each.

These settlements are believed to be the largest mass arrest settlements in the history of the United States. Lead counsel on the class action cases are Carl Messineo and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, co-founders of the PCJF

April 2000

On April 15, 2000, nearly 700 persons were arrested during a lawful and peaceful march against the Prison-Industrial Complex on the first day of several days of protests against the IMF and World Bank. The police threw up police lines, prohibited anyone from leaving, and arrested everyone solely because they had engaged in First Amendment protected activity or because they were in proximity to free speech in the nation's capital. 

Children were handcuffed and taken away from their parents. Many arrestees were held on stifling buses for eight hours with their hands cuffed tightly behind their backs, not allowed to use bathrooms such that persons were forced to urinate on themselves. Many arrestees were taken to a police gym where they were hogtied wrist to ankle in stress and duress positions throughout the night. 

Earlier that same morning, the police seized, raided and closed down the Convergence Center where protestors were meeting, holding trainings, making political artwork for the planned demonstrations and preparing food. Over the next two days, the police engaged in beatings and other acts of violence against protestors. Eight plaintiffs who pursued individual claims from those actions have also achieved a settlement of their claims as well. 

Last year, the PCJF won a ruling from the U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge recommending that the presiding Judge Paul L. Friedman enter summary judgment finding against the District on behalf of the class of arrestees as well as for a lead organizer who was arrested in the Convergence Center raid.

Pershing Park 

On the morning of September 27, 2002, the D.C. police department, working with the U.S. Park Police, encircled Pershing Park during a protest against the IMF and World Bank, refused to let anyone leave, violently advanced on the crowd, and then arrested and hog-tied peaceful demonstrators, tourists, journalists, passers-by, and legal observers. Just as in April 2000, many were held bound wrist to ankle on a police gym floor for upwards of 24 hours. 

Pershing Park Cover-Up 

The Pershing Park case received national and international media attention after it was revealed by the PCJF attorneys that the Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of Attorney General had engaged in widespread destruction and withholding of evidence. In the course of extensive litigation and discovery, PCJF attorneys uncovered and exposed that the running resume, which is a comprehensive log of police activity on the day of the arrest, had been destroyed. The destruction included not only the database and electronic backup but at least a dozen hard copies of the information. The attorneys also uncovered that segments of taped audio transmissions, known as radio runs, were deleted. The data missing was from the time the arrests were being ordered and executed. 

Presiding U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan called the discovery misconduct in the Pershing Park matter the "civil equivalent of the Ted Stevens case." 

The District itself commissioned an investigation by former Federal Judge Stanley Sporkin, whose recent report expressed being "particularly disturbed" by the purging of evidence and stated: "We have no way of knowing whether this was an act of intentional mischief or reflects a benign action. We do not believe it was the latter." 

Equitable Relief 

In addition to the monetary terms, the District will change certain policies and practices as part of the settlements of these two class actions. 

Equitable relief provisions include: The MPD and OAG are required to centrally index and log all materials collected and reviewed in demonstration cases, a measure calculated to create an audit trail that will prevent future acts of evidence destruction; funding is established for document management software to be used to log and index evidence; new mandatory requirements for the preservation, indexing maintenance of the integrity of the command center running resume, radio runs and video recorded evidence; and ongoing obligations to report to PCJF attorneys every six months for the next three years on the implementation of these measures. 

There are additional training and accountability requirements for police personnel including requirements for training on lawful standard operating procedures in the context of First Amendment protected assemblies and mass demonstrations and additional obligations when the MPD obtains the assistance of outside law enforcement agencies for demonstration related duties. The records of the over 1,000 persons falsely arrested in these two class actions will be expunged and the arrests declared null and void.

If you were arrested or know someone who was arrested in either of these cases, please go to www.JusticeOnline.org to sign up for alerts about these class actions and read FAQs. The agreements between the plaintiffs and the District will have to receive Court approval and go through a class action administration process before any disbursements are made. 

The PCJF is a public interest legal organization. With your help, this invaluable work can continue to win new victories in defense of the Constitution. Please make a generous year-end, tax-deductible donation to support our efforts in defense of civil liberties.