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City Agrees to $18M Settlement Over RNC Protest Arrests

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TWC News: City Agrees to $18M Settlement Over RNC Protest Arrests
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Almost 10 years after New York played host to the Republican National Convention, the city has finally settled a long-running legal battle, agreeing to pay $18 million to protestors who were arrested and detained, in some cases for days. Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

The city on Wednesday announced it has agreed to pay $18 million to settle dozens of lawsuits stemming from arrests made during the 2004 Republican National Convention.

“As far as we know, this is the single largest settlement in a protest case in American history,” said Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

After years and years of litigation, some 1,600 people arrested during protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention will be receiving checks from the city.

The average payout is about $6,400.

In most cases, they were mass arrests for minor charges like disorderly conduct, almost all of which were dismissed.

"Anybody who was near, anybody who was close, was swept up and held in what we called the Guantanamo on the Hudson, which was Pier 57,” said Jonathan Moore, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

While the city has been fighting the lawsuits for years, a judge recently found no probable cause for the arrests at this lower Manhattan march, captured on police video.

“You are now all blocking the sidewalk. If you do not disperse, you will be placed under arrest. Form a line!” yelled a police officer in the video.

The video seems to show an orderly crowd suddenly rounded up, mostly without warning.

“I have to get out. I have high blood pressure,” said one woman on the tape.

Dozens of those arrested in 2004 attended a news conference Wednesday.

Some of those arrested weren’t even protesting.

“If this average person can get arrested walking down the street going for a milkshake at Wendy’s, which is what I was doing that night,” said Deirdre MacNamara. “We should all be a little afraid.”

"Even though the protests were completely peaceful, there were over 1,800 arrests. That is more arrests than an at any political convention in American history. And those arrests were indiscriminate. There were mass arrests in many locations. Bystanders were arrested. Legal observers were arrested. Journalists were arrested," said Dunn.

The settlement is now subject to final approval by the federal court, but the parties say it is effectively final.

While the settlement was initiated before he took office, the new mayor expressed support.

“I have spoken before about my concerns about how that situation was handled at the time, and I’m glad we’re moving forward and we’re going to take a very different view going forward about how we respect people’s rights to express themselves,” said de Blasio.

The New York City Law Department released a statement after the settlement was announced.

“It was vitally important to defend the City in this litigation, and we are proud of the major victories we achieved,” said Celeste Koeleveld, Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Public Safety, in the statement. “Among other successes, the constitutionality of key police policies used during the RNC was upheld, and an effort to restrict the NYPD’s ability to police large-scale events was rejected. That said, as the City and the plaintiffs acknowledged in our joint statement, it is in the best interest of those involved in this longstanding litigation to settle the remaining claims.”

There are still some outstanding lawsuits, which attorneys hope de Blasio will choose to settle quickly. Most affected by Wednesday's settlement should be receiving their money in a matter of months.

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