In Suit, Protesters Say City Violated Their Constitutional RightsBy COLIN MOYNIHAN
4:07 p.m. | Updated The City of New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and several large corporations have regularly violated the constitutional rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters who have sought to express their opinions at various demonstrations across the city, according to a wide-ranging federal lawsuit filed on Monday.
The lawsuit, which included several City Council members as plaintiffs, said that the city “in concert with various private and public entities” subjected the plaintiffs to “violations of rights to free speech, assembly, freedom of the press, false arrest, excessive force, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.”
At times, the Police Department had improperly photographed people who were arrested and may not have destroyed those pictures, when required by law, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in United States District Court in Manhattan.
In addition, the lawsuit said, the city had stopped some plaintiffs from “carrying out their duties as elected officials.’’
Muriel Goode-Trufant, the chief of the special federal litigation division of the city Law Department, said, “We will review the matters thoroughly,” adding that the agency was waiting to receive the complaint.
Court papers said that the private companies, which included Brookfield Properties and JPMorgan Chase, had improperly excluded protesters from public spaces that are controlled by those companies and are supposed to remain open in return for zoning concessions. Representatives from those companies declined to comment.
The plaintiffs requested, among other things, that a judge order the police not to remove people from public spaces or prevent reporters from observing police activities connected to public speech and assembly. The plaintiffs also asked that an independent monitor be appointed to review arrests related to Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and to investigate how the police had closed public spaces at different times.
The lawsuit was filed by three lawyers, Wylie M. Stecklow, Yetta Kurland and Leo Glickman. Ms. Kurland said that it was “concerning that members of the press and elected officials are targeted and arrested.” She added, “We are asking specifically in redress that a federal monitor be appointed to safeguard the public.”
The police stopped one City Council member, Jumaane D. Williams, from getting to Zuccotti Park while the city was clearing protesters from the park, the lawsuit said, thus preventing him from fulfilling his “institutional role as a monitor and overseer” of the police. A second council member, Ydanis Rodriguez, was arrested without cause near Zuccotti Park that same day, the lawsuit said, as was Paul Newell, a leader of a local Democratic district.
Charges against Mr. Newell and Mr. Rodriguez were eventually dismissed.
The lawsuit said that two other council members, Letitia James and Melissa Mark-Viverito were “denied the right to receive information about the police,” but did not provide further details.
Several other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are “citizen journalists,” or Occupy organizers who the complaint said were wrongly arrested.
One example involved Justin Sullivan, who describes himself as an independent reporter and who the complaint said was wrongly arrested in January by Metropolitan Transportation Authority police while filming a demonstration inside Grand Central Terminal. When he returned to the terminal after being released from custody to ask for his cameras, which the lawsuit said were still being held by officers, Mr. Sullivan was again arrested, according to the complaint. Eventually a still camera was returned but a video camera was not, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit went on to state that a witness saw a transportation authority officer “instructing another officer to break the camera.”
Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying, “We never comment on pending litigation.”
Another section of the lawsuit cited Peter Dutro, an Occupy organizer who has been identified in previous court papers as the “de facto treasurer” of the group, and who was arrested in November. The lawsuit said that the criminal complaint against Mr. Dutro stated that he had been on the corner of Exchange Place and Broadway when he was arrested, but that video footage showed he was actually arrested inside the Amalgamated Bank, where Occupy Wall Street had an account.
Officials from the Police Department did not respond right away to requests for comment.
The lawsuit also said that many protesters who had been arrested had been improperly photographed by police officers. And while the law requires that photographs of those who are found to be not guilty must be returned to those defendants or destroyed, the lawsuit stated, “Upon information and belief, N.Y.P.D. has not returned or destroyed photographs of innocent arrestees in the O.W.S. movement.”
On several occasions since the Occupy protests began, the lawsuit said, the city had acted with private landlords to prevent protesters from assembling in public areas like Zuccotti Park, the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center and One Chase Manhattan Plaza, which the protesters had selected as one of their original gathering spots for Sept. 17.
The wide plaza, between William and Nassau Streets, was sealed off that day by metal barricades. Over the past seven months the barriers have become more permanent and now include chain link fencing and plywood walls.
A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase declined to discuss the lawsuit.