On Eve of May Day, Council Members James and Williams Sue Police over OWS Crackdown
Updated 4/30/12 at 2:18 p.m. to add information on second lawsuit filed against NYPD on Monday, April 30, in relation to Occupy Wall Street protests.
By Jennifer Peltz
BROOKLYN — On the eve of promised May Day demonstrations by Occupy Wall Street, two city council members from Brooklyn joined two from Manhattan on Monday is suing the city over its handling of earlier OWS protests.
Council members Letitia James (D-Fort Greene), Jumaane Williams (D-East Flatbush), Melissa Mark-Viverito and Ydanis Rodriguez said police conduct has been so problematic that the NYPD needs an outside monitor.
“We need accountability, we need relief, and we’re not going to just sit idly by,” Williams said.
According to the four lawmakers’ suit, the city and police violated demonstrators’ free speech rights, used excessive force, arrested protesters on dubious charges and interfered with journalists’ and council members’ efforts to observe what was going on.
While OWS activists have gone to court before over particular episodes in the movement’s contentious history with the city, the new lawsuit is a nearly 150-page compendium of complaints, amplified by the council members’ participation. A local Democratic Party official, freelance journalists and OWS activists also are plaintiffs.
The city Law Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended police handling of the protests.
“This police department knows how to control crowds without excessive force. They do allow you to protest, but they don’t let it get out of hand,” the mayor said after some council members complained about what they called police brutality at a March OWS demonstration.
Williams and Mark-Viverito were among dozens of people who calmly sat down in a roadway near the Brooklyn Bridge during a Nov. 17 demonstration. Their disorderly conduct cases are on track to be dismissed if they avoid rearrest.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, was accused of resisting arrest while trying to get to the protesters’ encampment in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park as police uprooted them Nov. 15. He emerged with visible scrapes to his head and said police assaulted him. Prosecutors recently dropped the charges against the councilman, saying they couldn’t secure the testimony of a key officer in the incident.
“I feel that the NYPD misused its powers,” he said.
City council members and other elected officials have sued the city before — over a Bloomberg-led 2009 change to term limits, among other things.
Still, the council members’ involvement in the OWS suit helps dramatize its argument that police oversight is so ineffective it warrants a court-appointed monitor. The officials want an independent eye to review all of the more than 2,000 OWS-related arrests and to explore the sometime closures of Zuccotti Park and some other public spaces.
The lawsuit, crafted by attorneys Leo Glickman, Yetta Kurland and Wylie Stecklow, also seeks unspecified damages and court orders about access to public spaces and other issues in the case.
Some state legislators also have proposed an independent inspector for the New York Police Department, citing the OWS protests and other issues.
The lawsuit was filed the same day as another lawsuit by five individuals who said their constitutional rights were violated when police officers kept them inside an area surrounded by metal barricades for nearly two hours on Nov. 30 as they tried to participate in an OWS demonstration. The lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan sought unspecified damages and class action status.
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