Monday, November 23, 2009

DC Govt to pay $13.7 mil to wrongfully arrested protesters

The District of Columbia has agreed to pay $13.7 million to settle a class action suit brought by protesters arrested during a demonstration in 2000, lawyers in the case announced at court today.

Lawyers for the protesters said it would be the largest amount ever paid in the U.S. to compensate protesters who were wrongfully arrested. The plaintiffs alleged that police officers detained nearly 700 people attending an April 15, 2000 march against “the prison industrial complex,” which was timed to overlap with an IMF / World Bank meeting. Many of those arrested were tied up for long periods of time, they said.

“It sends a message to every city and every law enforcement officer that there is going to be a steep price to pay for violating protesters’ First Amendment rights,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice, which filed the suit in 2001.

Verheyden-Hilliard said she believed that U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman’s decision to set a trial date had pushed the District to settle.

“Faced with the reality of trial and a potentially huge loss, the district was able to come to the table,” she said.

The case is the second major protester suit the District has settled in recent weeks. It agreed earlier this month to pay $450,000 to eight individuals who were allegedly interrogated by police during a 2002 demonstration related to the Iraq War.