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Court nixes Occupy marchers’ suit over mass arrest on bridge

February 24, 2015 By Jennifer Peltz Associated Press
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Police didn’t mislead more than 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters into getting arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, a federal appeals court decided in ordering the demonstrators’ lawsuit dismissed.

Reversing its own earlier decision that the false-arrest lawsuit could proceed, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said in a ruling Monday evening that police made valid arrests in a “confused and boisterous situation” during a march that spotlighted the anti-financial-inequality movement in its early days.

City lawyers called the ruling proper.

“Multiple videotapes of the events do not show that the plaintiffs were ever granted permission” to block traffic on the bridge roadway, though they say officers implied they could, Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said.

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A legal group representing the protesters said it was considering further action.

“We are evaluating all avenues in our commitment to vindicate this constitutional deprivation for the people who suffered this great injustice,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

The case stemmed from the largest mass arrest of the Occupy movement’s heyday in New York.

Police said the protesters, who didn’t have a permit, spilled onto the roadway despite warnings to stay on a pedestrian path. Demonstrators said many didn’t hear a warning and that they thought police had decided to let them onto the road, especially since some officers who initially blocked them turned around and walked ahead of them.

The appeals court said “the failure of a thin line of police officers to physically impede a large group” of marchers doesn’t convey “an invitation to ‘go ahead.'”

“It cannot be said that the police’s behavior was anything more than — at best for plaintiffs — ambiguous, or that a reasonable officer would necessarily have understood that the demonstrators would reasonably interpret the retreat as permission to use the roadway,” the judges wrote.

The same court last summer said the lawsuit could go forward. Police then sought a rehearing, and the appeals court concluded its earlier opinion had wrongly required officers “to engage in an essentially speculative inquiry” into demonstrators’ minds.

Over time, police made more than 2,600 arrests on various charges at Occupy-related events. The Manhattan district attorney’s office agreed to dismiss more than 78 percent of the cases. More than 400 people pleaded guilty or were convicted at trials, 11 were acquitted and judges dismissed some other cases, according to the DA’s office.

The arrests spurred a number of lawsuits, including a case involving more than a dozen demonstrators who said police ordered them to leave but prevented them from doing so and arrested them in Lower Manhattan early on New Year’s Day 2012. Their disorderly conduct cases got dismissed, and the city agreed last summer to a $600,000 settlement.


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