Court Approval Given for Protest Arrest Class Action Resolution
Issuing final approval to a class action settlement, U.S. Federal Judge Paul Friedman described the terms of settlement of a nearly decade-long protest arrest lawsuit in Washington, D.C., as “historic” and an achievement for “future generations.”
From the bench, the Judge stated, “The equitable relief has effectively changed the landscape, both practically on the streets and legally, in the courts of the District of Columbia and under law as pertains to police conduct during mass demonstrations.”
The class action lawsuit filed by attorneys from the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on behalf of nearly 700 demonstrators and passersby who were illegally mass arrested on April 15, 2000 in downtown Washington, D.C., led to major reform legislation adopted by the D.C. City Council in 2004 and additional changes in police practices and policies won by the PCJF.
During the litigation, the PCJF successfully fought to end the D.C. police’s “trap and detain” arrest tactic whereby the police would use police lines to suddenly surround and arrest entire groups of people in proximity to free speech activities. The monetary terms of the nearly $14 million settlement include up to $18,000 for each eligible class member. It is considered to be the largest protest settlement in U.S. history.
During the fairness hearing held in open court in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Friedman discussed the case, the settlement and the resulting changes in police practices in Washington, D.C., as well as the efforts of class counsel at the PCJF, whom he said had “done a spectacular job.”
"[I]t's an important settlement, it's an historic settlement,” stated Judge Friedman. “[T]he terms of this settlement are historic. They provide substantial relief for the plaintiffs and for future generations of protestors.” He added, “There are fewer more tenacious lawyers who work as hard for their clients.”
Judge Friedman discussed the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004, stating: “Along the way [of this litigation] the city council, again at the urging of plaintiffs' counsel in this case, passed really quite historic legislation with respect to how demonstrators will be treated in the future. ... there have to be limits on what the police can and cannot do. There are constitutional limits; there are now serious statutory limits in the District of Columbia as well....”
“Substantial benefits have been conferred on the class in terms of significant policy changes in the areas of restrictions on police tactics through legislation that we talked about, based upon evidence that was developed by the plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ counsel in this and the other cases before Judge Sullivan and others in this court. …The First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004 was, as I said, a direct result of this litigation….”
“One of the things that the settlement agreement also includes is even a more specific regimen of training for police that is calculated to remedy deficiencies even beyond what’s in the legislation that was passed six years ago. And the settlement agreement…mandates specific and particular training requirements.
“It also requires the Metropolitan Police Department to brief outside agencies who are brought in to assist demonstration-related duties in terms of the requirements of handling First Amendment assemblies and responding to protest situations. And that’s always been a problem historically in the District of Columbia, because first of all there’s something like 26 separate police agencies who operate within the District of Columbia, and occasionally people are brought in from departments elsewhere.
“Class counsel and the District of Columbia attorneys are in agreement that from the effective date of the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act in April of 2005 up until now, there has been no use of the specific practices that were challenged in this litigation….”
“With all of this in mind, and in consideration of the monetary and nonmonetary conditions of the settlement, the claims for equitable relief have been resolved, the terms reached in the resolution of this case, as I said, are historic and substantial…”
As Judge Friedman noted, “The class reaction to the settlement has been overwhelmingly positive.” The hearing was attended by Class Representatives, members of the class, the general public, a group of teachers and the media.
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The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) is a not-for-profit legal and educational organization which, among other things, seeks to ensure government transparency in operations and constitutional accountability within police practices. The PCJF won a unanimous ruling at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals finding the MPD's unprecedented military-style police checkpoint program unconstitutional. It is counsel on the Barham and Becker class action cases in which more than 1,000 persons were falsely arrested during protests in Washington, D.C., resulting in settlements totaling $22 million. The PCJF previously uncovered and disclosed that the D.C. police employed an unlawful domestic spying and agent provocateur program in which officers were sent on long-term assignments posing as political activists and infiltrated lawful and peaceful groups. For more information go to: www.JusticeOnline.org.