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Commander Who Pepper-Sprayed Protesters Is Sued Again

Reprinted from New York Times

Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, the police commander sued in July for pepper-spraying Occupy Wall Street protesters, has been sued again.

On Thursday, two people, who claim that their rights were violated when officers under Inspector Bologna’s command arrested them as they stood on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village last year, filed suits against Inspector Bologna as well as the city and the police commissioner.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the lawyer who filed the suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan, said that she wanted to examine sidewalk arrests, which she thought had been intentionally used by the police in New York to limit participation in Occupy protests.

“Sidewalks are, constitutionally and practically, a safe haven for peaceable protest and political association, a space upon which people may engage others in free speech, in collective action,” she wrote in the complaint. “In New York City, police routinely abuse their authority, to engage in the false arrest of protesters (or persons associated with protest) who are lawfully present on the sidewalks.”

The resulting message, she wrote, was that people who participate in demonstrations or are simply near demonstrators run the risk of arrest, even if they are not marching in roadways or engaging in other activities that are commonly understood to involve the possibility of arrest.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department said: “We have not yet received the papers but will review them thoroughly upon receipt.”

During Occupy demonstrations over the past year, the police have arrested numerous protesters who have run into streets, sat down or lay down on the ground in symbolic protest or walked onto a bridge roadway. But there have also been occasions, including several in the past week, when police officers arrested protesters who were walking or standing on sidewalks. Some of the people were wearing masks, which is unlawful under certain circumstances, but others did not appear to be engaged in obvious wrongdoing.

The plaintiffs in the suit filed on Thursday, Johanne Sterling and Joshua Cartagena, said that they were arrested last Sept. 24 while standing on a sidewalk on East 12th Street off Fifth Avenue. (Ms. Sterling said that she was also struck by the pepper spray blast from Inspector Bologna.)

The suit also names two other officers, who the plaintiffs said swore out false declarations claiming that the defendants were blocking vehicles or pedestrians.