Lawsuit Filed Over Brooklyn Bridge Mass Arrest

The Washington, D.C.-based Partnership for Civil Justice Fund has filed a federal class action lawsuit against New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the city, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and a bunch of unidentified cops and law enforcement agents over Saturday's controversial kettling-fest and mass arrest of protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge.

PCJ filed its 20-page case, Garcia v. Bloomberg (which you can read here), on behalf of five protesters who claim that, during their march from Zuccotti Park, NYPD officers led them and at least 700 others across the Brooklyn Bridge, prevented them from leaving, and "falsely" arrested them—all alleged Fourth Amendment violations. PCJ says the defendants "engaged in a premeditated, planned, scripted and calculated effort to sweep the streets of protestors and disrupt a growing protest movement in New York," and cites as evidence of premeditation the fact that the officers who led the crowd were all allegedly command officers. Also, cops who delivered commands used their bullhorns, but spoke softly enough so that protesters couldn't actually hear them above all the noise. PCJ believes the cops spoke "inaudibly" on purpose, and that the use of the bullhorns was all a "charade"—a way to justify the mass arrest without actually providing fair notice to most protesters, as required by the Constitution. In general, the NYPD enforces a "policy" of arresting people en masse without probable cause, PCJ asserts—and this incident is just the latest example.

In addition to citing alleged Fourth Amendment violations, PCJ's suit also claims a number of First Amendment violations. For example, one of the plaintiffs was allegedly told by an NYPD officer that the rationale behind the mass arrest was to keep them from continuing the demonstration. Another plaintiff was supposedly told by an officer that "next time you'll think twice about going out to protest." Such statements amount to "chilling" speech and are therefore unconstitutional, the suit says.

The plaintiffs seek monetary compensation for Saturday's drama plus arrest nullification, expungement of their records, and an injunction prohibiting similar mass arrests in the future. Will they get it? Possibly: The PCJ has a pretty good record of winning the suits they file—obtaining settlement in which the city had to develop a constitutional permitting scheme for protests in one case, and winning monetary compensation for protesters in other cases.

In detailing the alleged Fourth Amendment violations, the suit's claims conflict with New York Times freelancer Natasha Lennard's report, which asserts that "a couple of dozen marchers made the decision" to leave the sidewalk and march on the Bridge. Lennard, who marched near the front of the crowd and ended up getting arrested with the masses, adds that the protesters even chanted "off the sidewalks, onto the streets." However, this NYPD video does seem to bolster PCJ's claims that the commands weren't delivered in a way that most of the protesters would hear them.

It's nice that the 99 percent has a PR firm and now some lawyers helping them out, but who's going to stick up for the other one percent's right to make millions of dollars freely and without unnecessary government intrusion? Please, somebody go to bat for them.

[PCJ. Image via AP]