ACLU Files Lawsuits Challenging Police Practices to Be Used at 2004 Republican National Convention

November 19, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union today filed three lawsuits challenging New York City Police Department (NYPD) practices used at large demonstrations and expected to be used at the Republican National Convention next summer.

The lawsuits seek court orders barring use of these practices at upcoming demonstrations as well as damages for three individuals injured as a result of NYPD actions at the city’s large anti-war demonstration on February 15, 2003.

“Hundreds of thousands of people will be coming to New York next summer to engage in peaceful protest at the Republican National Convention, and they are entitled to be treated with the same respect as those attending the convention itself,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “These lawsuits are designed to ensure that the police will fully respect the First Amendment rights of protesters.”

The lawsuits were brought on behalf of the ACLU and three individuals who attended or sought to attend the February 15 anti-war demonstration. According to legal papers, all three individuals and members of the NYCLU will seek to attend large demonstrations at the Convention next August and thus could again be subjected to the NYPD practices challenged in the cases filed today.

The ACLU’s cases challenge five specific NYPD demonstration tactics: (1) the use of barricades and police officers to deny public access to demonstrations by closing sidewalks and streets leading to demonstration sites; (2) the use of horses to forcefully disperse peacefully assembled demonstrators; (3) the use of pens made of interlocking metal barricades to confine demonstrators; (4) the searching of the bags and possessions of people seeking to attend demonstrations and being forced to enter NYPD pens, and (5) the prolonged detention in vans without access to food, water or bathroom facilities of demonstrators charged with minor offenses.

“The filing of these cases marks the beginning of a campaign to protect the right to protest at next summer’s Republican National Convention,” said Christopher Dunn, Associate Legal Director of the NYCLU. “The NYPD crackdown on peaceful protest that happened at the anti-war protests this past spring cannot be repeated at the Convention.”

The ACLU’s clients include Jeremiah Gutman, an 80-year-old civil-rights activist who with his family attempted to attend the February 15, 2003, demonstration in midtown Manhattan against U.S. military action in Iraq.

The NYPD prevented Gutman’s family and tens of thousands of others from reaching the demonstration by closing sidewalks and streets leading to the demonstration, by channeling demonstrators onto streets far from the rally site, and by providing inaccurate and conflicting information — or no information — to demonstrators looking for accessible routes to the rally. As a result, the ACLU said in legal papers, Gutman — like many others — was trapped in a large crowd of people simply attempting to reach the demonstration. Then, without warning, police officers drove horses directly into the peaceable crowds. While trying to protect his young son from injury, Gutman knocked to the ground and permanently injured as a result of the NYPD’s actions.

Another ACLU client, Ann Stauber, is a 60-year-old diabetic, wheelchair-bound resident of Manhattan who attended the February 15 demonstration. Like everyone else who was able to reach the rally site, Stauber was herded by NYPD officials into a metal pen from which she could not exit without permission from the NYPD. Although Stauber informed NYPD officers that she had an urgent need to use the bathroom and to return home to check her blood sugar, the officers refused to allow her to leave the pen. When she attempted to leave the pen, an officer forcibly prevented her from doing so and in the process broke the controls on her wheelchair.

A third ACLU client, 27-year-old Jeremy Conrad, is a resident of Brooklyn who is now a law student. Conrad and his girlfriend attempted to attend the February 15 demonstration, but never made it there because police barricades trapped them in a large crowd on Third Avenue. Conrad was injured when he was stepped on by a horse used by the NYPD to charge the crowd. When Conrad complained to officers that those in the crowd could not move and risked injury, he was singled out for arrest and maliciously punched and kicked by police officers, the ACLU said.

Conrad then was detained for nearly eight hours in a cage in the back of an unheated and unlit van without food, water, or access to bathroom facilities. Finally, NYPD officers forced Conrad and others to stand outside Police Headquarters in 14-degree weather in handcuffs for approximately an hour-and-a-half before issuing him a summons for a minor offense and releasing him.

The ACLU filed today’s cases in conjunction with the Civil Rights Clinic of New York University’s School of Law. The law students working on the cases are Julie E. Fink, Justin Giovannelli, Megan Higgins, Elizabeth A. Mollar, Hillary Noll, Elizabeth D. Silver, Joseph W. Treolar, and Nicholas N. Viorst.

In April, the ACLU issued a report, Arresting Protest, chronicling the city’s decision to prohibit all protest activity during the February 15 anti-war demonstration in New York. A copy of the report is available online at /node/21964.

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