Federal Court Rules That D.C. Police Unlawfully Arrested Anti-Bush Protesters On Inauguration Day

June 18, 2008 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — A federal court ruled yesterday that the District of Columbia had unlawfully arrested about 70 people during an anti-war and anti-Bush protest march on Inauguration Day 2005. The arrestees are now entitled to a trial to determine the amount of the District’s monetary liability to them.

The protest march began at about 11 p.m. on January 20, 2005, after an Anti-Inaugural Concert held on Columbia Road, N.W. About 250 to 300 demonstrators were headed towards the Washington Hilton Hotel, where an Inaugural Ball was in progress, when D.C. police blocked the march and surrounded and arrested about 70 people in an alley, including at least one who had come out of a bar and mingled with the demonstrators as the march passed by.

While the demonstrators marched peacefully, some individuals in the area did commit crimes, such as spray-painting on buildings, pulling newspaper vending machines into the street, and breaking windows; rocks and bottles were thrown at police cars. But the police were unable to identify the people who committed those crimes. Instead, they arrested everyone in the alley for rioting, and subsequently charged them with parading without a permit, though they never had given any warning that the parade had to end or any opportunity for marchers to disperse peacefully.

In a decision released yesterday, Judge Ellen S. Huvelle found that the police violated the constitutional rights of the protesters by arresting them without having evidence linking any individual person to any crime. She explained that “a peaceful political protester may not be punished for failing to cease his protected activity simply because others associated with the assembly may have committed illegal acts,” and that “no reasonable officer could have believed that there was probable cause to order a mass arrest of plaintiffs for parading without a permit absent fair notice and an opportunity to comply.”

“We brought this case to vindicate an important principle,” said Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, which filed the case jointly with the D.C. Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. “When people march peacefully in the street to support a political cause they should not be arrested. If some people commit crimes, those people should be arrested, not their neighbors. If police have a good reason to stop a march, they must give marchers an opportunity to disperse, not simply arrest them.”

Susan Dunham of the NLG added, “The court’s ruling reminds the police that the criminal acts of a few persons at a demonstration do not make all demonstrators guilty of rioting and, most important, that demonstrators have a right to continue protesting peacefully despite the misconduct of others near or among them, unless police for good reason order an end to the demonstration.”

The decision in Carr v. District of Columbia is at: https://ecf.dcd.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/Opinions.pl?2008

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