Two lawsuits have landed in the laps of the NYPD today, slamming the department for its handling of Occupy protests over the past seven months. Four City Council members, along with journalists, a local Democratic Party official and OWS activists, have filed a 143-page civil rights lawsuit highlighting issues such as excessive force, obstruction of constitutional rights and access to public spaces. Another specifically addresses the problem of barricades—five plaintiffs are filing what lawyers are asking to be labeled as class action suit, stemming from the NYPD's use of barricades surrounding protesters, journalists and tourists outside a fund-raiser for President Obama at the Sheraton Hotel in November of last year. Both arrive a day before Occupy's largest planned proceedings of 2012, a sure signal to the police that whatever happens will be noted—carefully.
The suit filed by Council members Ydanis Rodriguez, Letitia James, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Jumaane Williams asserts that J.P. Morgan Chase acted "in concert" with the NYPD to bar access to public spaces and limit freedom of speech. It cites the replacement of NYPD barriers before the arrival of protesters with a private fence (as well as a $4.6 million contribution from the bank to the department) as evidence of being in cahoots. The suit also calls for a court-appointed third party to monitor the NYPD.
"This is about a balance of power," Councilwoman Letitia James said at a press conference this morning. "Right now the only weapon we have at our disposal is to litigate, to get into court and have someone independent decide whether the NYPD is following the laws, following the laws consistently."
Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed as a result of the events on November 30 has asked a judge to prohibit certain uses of barricades, reports Colin Moynihan of the New York Times.
“Demonstrators were treated differently than others at the same intersection at the same time,” the lawsuit states. “N.Y.P.D. officials told plaintiffs and others in the pen that they were being held ‘because’ they were protesters. Tourists who were trapped in the pen as well as journalists were released while demonstrators were held.”
At the same time, the lawsuit asserted, traffic on Seventh Avenue was allowed to “flow freely.”
Five plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, which lawyers are asking be designated as a class action, said that the police violated their First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights by holding them inside the barricaded area. [NYTimes]
On May 1, organizers have planned a number of protests outside of midtown banks and corporations—99 picket lines in total is the goal. How the NYPD chooses to contain them will be especially critical now that the city is facing litigation for improper use of barricades in Occupy protests last fall.