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Judge Rules Against Police in Brooklyn Bridge Arrests

Reprinted from The New York Times

A federal judge ruled Thursday that the police did not adequately warn Occupy Wall Street protesters against walking on the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge before arresting about 700 of them in October.

The ruling, by Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan, allows a class-action suit filed by protesters to proceed against police officers and commanders involved in the arrests. But the ruling dismissed the mayor, the police commissioner and the City of New York as defendants in the suit, saying that there was insufficient evidence that those parties were responsible for any misconduct by the police.

Judge Rakoff’s ruling (see also below) addresses one of the most contentious questions to arise during the Occupy protests: did the police wrongly arrest hundreds of protesters by allowing them and even leading them on the roadway only to surround them minutes later with orange netting? Or did the protesters, as the police have maintained, leave the pedestrian walkway for the roadway knowing full well they could end up in handcuffs?

The evidence, Judge Rakoff held, favored the protesters.

“A reasonable officer in the noisy environment defendants occupied would have known that a single bull horn could not reasonably communicate a message to 700 demonstrators,” he wrote, adding that protesters “might infer permission to enter the vehicular roadway from the fact that officers, without offering further warnings, proceeded ahead of and alongside plaintiffs onto that roadway.”

The suit, filed shortly after the Oct. 1. arrests by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, claims that the police violated the protesters’ constitutional rights by luring them into a trap in order to arrest them en masse.

It stated that the marchers had done their best to follow orders from officers and had believed that the police were allowing them to use the bridge roadway, with senior commanders leading the way.

Lawyers for the city disagreed, saying that as protesters chanted “Take the bridge,” a police commander announced through a megaphone: “I am ordering you to leave this roadway now. If you do so voluntarily no charges will be placed against you.”

Each side submitted videotapes to bolster their interpretation of what had occurred.

After viewing video evidence, Judge Rakoff wrote that the police announcement at the foot of the bridge could be heard by only a small percentage of marchers. And, he said, when officers facing the crowd turned around and began walking up the roadway, they extended to the protesters “an implicit invitation to follow.”

The suit does not name individual officers but lists as defendants John and Jane Doe Nos. 1 through 40 as placeholders for the responsible police personnel.