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D.C. Agrees to Pershing Park Settlement of $8.25 Million

Reprinted from Legal Times

The District of Columbia will pay $8.25 million to settle a class action brought by protesters rounded up in mass arrests during the 2002 Pershing Park demonstrations.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers today announced an agreement in principle with the District that would bring an end to nearly eight years of litigation. The suit was filed after D.C. police officers arrested and hog-tied nearly 400 protesters during IMF/World Bank protests on Sept. 27, 2002. The case has been marked by allegations that D.C. officials destroyed or lost crucial pieces of evidence, such as records of police activity that day, which led to an investigation by a former federal judge. The judge’s findings were inconclusive.

Last month the city agreed to pay $13.7 million to settle a similar suit brought by protesters arrested in 2000. Partnership for Civil Justice lawyer Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, who represented plaintiffs in both cases, called today’s settlement a “landmark victory.”

“In this case the police demonized peaceful protesters as criminals who should be pre-emptively arrested,” erheyden-Hilliard said.

Eligible protesters will receive about $18,000 a piece in the settlement, which must first be approved by a federal judge. The District will also be required to create a new document management system to prevent evidence from being lost in the future. It has agreed to submit a report to the plaintiffs’ lawyers every six months for the next three years updating them on progress implementing the system.

If today’s settlement is approved, it will leave one final unresolved suit over the Pershing Park arrests — the so-called “Chang case.” D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said he was meeting with lawyers in the four-plaintiff suit this afternoon to discuss a potential settlement. It will be the first time the two sides have sat down for negotiations.

“We don’t have any idea what we’re going into because we’ve never had a conversation with the attorney general about settling,” said Chang attorney Daniel Schwartz, a partner with Bryan Cave.