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D.C. Settles With More Protesters for $8.25 Million

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on December 17, 2009 12:50 PM

They say you can't fight city hall. That may be true, but you can make 'em cough up quite a bit of cash if you hang in there. In the weeks since November 23rd, the city of Washington D.C. has settled three cases with protestors stemming from police violations of first amendment rights during protests dating back as far as the year 2000. Nearly 400 protesters who were subjected to a mass arrest in Pershing Park during the World Bank meetings of 2002 will receive a settlement of $8.25 million. Additionally, 700 protesters from a 2000 suit garnered $13.7 million, and $450,000 will be paid to eight war protesters to settle a lawsuit filed after a 2002 detention and interrogation.

The protesters in all three actions were represented by the non-profit Partnership for Civil Justice, who were pleased with the outcome. Lead attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard told the Washington Post, that the settlements send "a powerful message to police agencies throughout the country that you cannot engage in mass violations of constitutional rights without accountability and a heavy price to pay." The payouts have set national records for such cases.

The Pershing Park suit arose from police herding protesters and bystanders alike into the park and failing to warn people to disperse before rounding them up in the mass arrests on Sept. 27, 2002. Some protesters were "hogtied" and held for more than 24 hours before being released. Former D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey has apologized for the arrests.

It might have saved the city a great deal of money if they had proactively provided the First Amendment training to officers, that will in any case be required now, under the terms of the settlement. The city will also have to improve its tracking on mass arrests and report on progress to the Partnership for Civil Justice.

The District is pleased to have put most of these cases behind them. However, one is not yet concluded. Four bystanders also rounded up in the mass arrests have a separate suit still outstanding. Their attorney, Jonathan Turley, will be meeting to discuss settlements with D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles next week.

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