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Federal judge hails “historic” free speech settlement between the PCJF and federal gov’t

Calls settlement’s police reforms “a model for other law enforcement agencies”

After nearly 13 years of litigation, a federal judge has approved an unprecedented settlement between the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) and the Justice Department and the Department of the Interior that will significantly change the handling of mass protests in the United States.

The settlement lays out policies and rules that, among other requirements, effectively prohibit the “trap and detain” kettling tactic and use of police lines to encircle demonstrations; prohibits mass sweeping arrests of protestors by emphasizing the requirement of individualized probable cause before arrests at free speech activities; and in circumstances where there is a lawful basis for a dispersal order, requires fair notice and warning to demonstrators as well as opportunity to comply with police orders to disperse, to be given three times at least two minutes apart and with avenues of exit announced through effective sound amplification.

Noting that the Department of Justice is a signatory to the “extremely significant settlement” with the PCJF and has an “active role” in “reviewing practices and procedures of local law enforcement” across the country, Judge Emmet G. Sullivan stated that the reforms embedded in the agreement should “serve as a model for other law enforcement agencies,” and urged that they “take a hard look at this settlement” in an effort to comply with Constitutional standards.

The Washington Post summarized the settlement and its national implications in an article excerpted below. Please read it and share!

Judge approves settlement over U.S. Park Police’s handling of protests

By Spencer S. Hsu

Ending a 13-year legal struggle, a federal judge gave final approval Monday to a settlement in which the federal government agreed to new terms of engagement with demonstrators in the nation’s capital and agreed to pay $2.2 million to almost 400 protesters and bystanders swept up by U.S. and local police during a September 2002 demonstration against the World Bank.

The District in 2010 agreed to pay $8.25 million to the same class-action litigants, who were picked up in a mass arrest at Pershing Park, and also agreed to overhaul police practices to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters.

In approving the deal, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan called the settlement “historic” and said it could guide police agencies nationwide.

The settlement came in the wake of unrest prompted by the injuries and deaths of unarmed black men in custody in cities such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, as the Justice Department reviews whether local authorities have engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional policing.

“It is significant this agreement is with the federal government, because the Department of Justice is reviewing the practices and the policies of local law enforcement agencies,” Sullivan said. “I hope this agreement will serve as a model for local jurisdictions across the country.”

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, the nonprofit group that brought the case, said the agreement disproves the belief that the free speech and assembly rights of protesters “have to be constricted for the sake of security and order.”

“There is simply no basis by which any other jurisdiction’s police department can legitimately claim it cannot enact these procedural standards that conform to fundamental constitutional requirements,” Verheyden-Hilliard said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marina Braswell told the court that the settlement, which concerned the U.S. Park Police and incidents involving other agencies — D.C. police in the Pershing Park case — could help shape policies for other law enforcement agencies called in to provide such inter-agency assistance.

Read the rest of the article here