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Kunstler v. City of New York

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Synopsis

Kunstler v. City of New York was a multi-plaintiff lawsuit filed against the New York Police Department for unlawfully arresting and detaining peaceful anti-war protesters for excessively long periods of time.

Status

The case was settled in August of 2008 for $2 million.

Description

Kunstler v. City of New York was a multi-plaintiff federal lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) against the New York Police Department (NYPD) on behalf of protesters who were unlawfully arrested during an anti-war rally in April 2003. It charges that the NYPD unlawfully arrested peaceful protesters and detained them for excessively long periods of time, violating their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Fifty-two of the arrestees have joined this lawsuit.

During an anti-war rally on April 7, 2003 in New York, more than 70 protesters were arrested outside the offices of an affiliate of the Carlyle Group, a defense-related investment firm with financial ties to the Bush and bin Laden families. The protestors were illegally arrested, detained for excessively prolonged periods at 1 Police Plaza, and denied access to their lawyers.

Lead plaintiff and protestor Sarah Kunstler was held for twelve hours and charged with two counts of disorderly conduct. “It was frightening to learn how easy it is to be arrested without warning and hauled away for peacefully exercising your free speech rights,” she said. “I hadn’t realized how regressive New York City policing had become.”

Some of the protesters were questioned using the controversial “Demonstration Debriefing Form,” which includes questions about political affiliations and prior attendance at demonstrations. The form was first used on scores of activists arrested following the mass protest on February 15, 2003 against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The NYPD claims to have withdrawn it after criticism from civil rights groups.

Discovery was completed in 2006, and CCR succeeded in fighting off the City’s attempt to force Plaintiffs to produce all of their past psychological files.

On August 19, 2008, CCR secured a $2 million settlement from the City.

“The New York Police Department violated core constitutional rights when it arrested a group of peaceful demonstrators who were lawfully protesting against the commencement of the Iraq war and those who stood to profit from it,” noted Sarah Netburn, attorney with Emery Celli Brinkerhoff Abady LLP, which handled the case along with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “We are gratified by the City’s decision to compensate these individuals whose targeted arrests were without probable cause and intended to quell future protest in New York City. This lawsuit, and this settlement, vindicates our clients’ rights to assemble and speak their mind free from the fear that they will be punished for their views.”

“My question is, why did the NYPD send over 100 police in riot gear, along with vehicles to block the street and disrupt the flow of morning rush hour traffic, all to stop a legal, peaceful protest, when there are far more important matters they could be pursuing? And, why did they fight us in court so doggedly when they knew the evidence proved that we were arrested without any police orders to leave?” asked Ahmad Shirazi, a film editor and grandfather and one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“We hope our victory helps convince the City to stop violating people's rights as a matter of policy and stop wasting taxpayers' money doing so,” said Sarah Kunstler, an attorney and filmmaker who is the daughter of the late William Kunstler, noted attorney and civil rights champion. Ms. Kunstler was acquitted after a trial of all criminal charges brought against her. “It should also serve as a reminder that Washington's illegal war in Afghanistan and Iraq is also being fought at home – against its own citizens and in the name of war profiteers like Carlyle and Halliburton. We intend to continue our resistance until this stops.”

Timeline

On February 12, 2004, the lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, after all of the criminal charges had been dismissed against all the plaintiffs. Aside from unspecified monetary compensation, lawyers also seek a declaration from the court that the NYPD’s actions on April 7, 2003 were retaliatory and unconstitutional.

The case has been in discovery since 2004. CCR deposed dozens of the defendant police officers and the City of New York deposed all fifty two plaintiffs.

In 2006, the City of New York took the aggressive move of attempting to force the plaintiffs to disclose their personal psychological records. This was rejected by Magistrate Judge Dollinger on August 29, 2006. The city appealed that ruling, but U.S. District Judge Sweet upheld the decision on May 14, 2007.

On August 19, 2008, CCR secured a $2 million settlement from the City.

For a copy of the stipulation of dismissal, please contact info at ccrjustice.org