District Settles 2000 Mass Arrest Case For $13.7 Million
Within 20 minutes of a hearing in federal court this afternoon, the District and plaintiffs attorneys settled a class-action lawsuit stemming from mass arrests and a police raid during the April 2000 anti-globalization protests—two years before the mass arrests at Pershing Park. This suit involves roughly 600 people arrested. The District agreed to a record $13.7 million payout.
“We are pleased with the settlement," says plaintiffs lawyer Carl Messineo. "It’s a historic settlement and it’s actually a fair deal for the District."
Legal Times reported this may be the largest payout in the U.S. for wrongfully arrested protesters. The two Pershing Park cases are still pending; AG Peter Nickles has promised to settle those lawsuits by Thanksgiving.
The case, Becker vs. D.C., revolved around wrongful arrests during the the anti-globalization demonstrations as well as the controversial police raid on the convergence center where groups were making gazpacho—not bombs or pepper spray as the police officials complained.
The Becker case also included individuals who had sat in a street already closed by D.C. Police. They had linked arms in such a way rendering them useless. D.C. cops had charged at them and beat them with batons. The activists suffered broken noses and head wounds as a result.
Messineo recalls the scene he uncovered through the lawsuit: "A [police official] shouted 'let’s do it!' and the officers charged off the bus, their badges and nameplates removed. They took the batons and smashed them into the faces of people who’s arms were immobilized. They suffered broken noses, broken teeth."
Like the Pershing Park cases, Messineo says, the Becker case had serious discovery problems.
He adds that as part of the monetary settlement, the District agreed to train all of its officers on the proper way to police demonstrations within 120 days of the settlement's approval. The city also agreed to attach a D.C. police officer to any outside agencies that are policing protests in the District. The liaison would ensure that the outside force complies with city law, specifically the bill developed as a result of the Pershing Park controversy—the First Amendment Rights and Police Standards Act of 2004.
The Office of Police Complaints had recently filed a report concerning police actions during demonstrations and found that outside agencies could still be a problem. The complaints board stated in a press release:
"PCB is concerned, however, about action taken by federal law enforcement officers who assisted MPD. Because the Act does not apply to federal officers, they handle demonstrations differently from MPD, even when assisting with protests on District-controlled public space. PCB believes this double standard has the potential to undermine accomplishment of the goals of the First Amendment Assemblies Act.
Based on its review of the April 2009 demonstration, PCB recommends that the District, through the combined efforts of the Mayor, the DC Council and the MPD Chief, seek to obtain federal law enforcement agencies’ voluntary compliance with the First Amendment Assemblies Act when assisting MPD officers with protests on District-controlled public space."