Wall Street protesters arrested in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge sued New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for allegedly violating their constitutional rights.
Five of the protesters, seeking to represent about 700 people arrested in the Oct. 1 march, filed a civil rights complaint yesterday in Manhattan federal court. They claimed officers from the New York City Police Department lured them onto the bridge’s roadway to trap and arrest them.
“After escorting and leading a group of demonstrators and others well out onto the Brooklyn Bridge roadway, the NYPD suddenly and without warning curtailed further forward movement, blocked the ability of persons to leave the bridge from the rear, and arrested hundreds of protesters in the absence of probable cause,” they said in the complaint.
The protesters, whose demonstration continued yesterday with as many as 1,000 people in Lower Manhattan, seek a declaration nullifying the arrests, that police violated the U.S. Constitution and an order barring the city from using similar tactics in the future. The group also seeks unspecified damages.
Police have said protesters were warned not to block the roadway and that those at the rear were allowed to leave.
“We have not been served with the formal legal papers yet, but we’ll review the claims thoroughly,” said Muriel Goode-Trufant, chief of the city Law Department’s Special Federal Litigation Division, in an e-mailed statement.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.
Earlier yesterday, a federal judge declined to block police from using unionized city bus drivers to transport protesters arrested at demonstrations, denying their union’s request for an immediate injunction while the lawsuit proceeds.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer rejected the request by the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which sought to bar police from forcing New York City Transit Authority bus drivers to take protesters to holding facilities. The judge didn’t rule on the union’s request for a permanent injunction.
Engelmayer said Transit Authority training materials instruct operators on what to do when a bus is commandeered by the fire or police departments.
The material “strongly indicates” that drivers were aware they may need to assist police or fire officials, the judge said. He said buses have been commandeered by the New York City Police Department at least three other times: after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; after a building collapse to take people to hospitals; and ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irene in August to evacuate nursing home residents.
“Police and transit workers are public workers that work in the same city and have a common duty,” the judge said, noting that New York state penal law requires a person to assist police with an arrest when it’s “reasonable” to do so.
The union, whose 38,000 members include 9,000 bus drivers, last week said it’s supporting the protests, which were thrust into the national spotlight when police made the mass arrests this weekend on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Police hailed buses traveling in downtown Brooklyn after Department of Correction vehicles got stuck in traffic, said Arthur Schwartz, an attorney for the union. The drivers were ordered to back their vehicles onto the Brooklyn Bridge to pick up arrested protesters and drive them to One Police Plaza and other locations, Schwartz said.
Engelmayer disagreed with Schwartz’s argument that police may commandeer buses again during a march planned for today, saying that assessment is “highly speculative” and that the police are likely to be more prepared than they were last weekend.
“Last Saturday involved very unusual circumstances,” Arthur Larkin, an attorney with the city’s Law Department, said in a statement. “The court appropriately found that the police department’s limited use of MTA buses was not unreasonable.”
The NYPD “will be prepared” for today’s march and “it would not appear likely that the police are going to have to do what they did last Saturday,” Larkin said. He said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that buses might be again commandeered.
“It has been a longstanding practice for the MTA to assist the city’s police and fire personnel when they request emergency assistance,” Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the New York City Transit Authority, said in an e-mail. “We are pleased that the federal court rejected the TWU’s motion.”
The next hearing in the union’s suit against the city is scheduled for Nov. 1. Schwartz said that he hasn’t decided whether to appeal yesterday’s ruling.
“We’re going to seek other avenues,” John Samuelsen, Local 100’s president, told reporters after yesterday’s hearing.
The protest continued yesterday several blocks south of the federal courthouse at Zuccotti Park. The number of protesters increased to as many as 1,000 by noon from about 200 in the morning. As of 9:45 p.m. local time, no demonstrators had been arrested, police spokesman John Grimpel said.
A few dozen participants held a daily “occupiers’ meeting” this morning in the northeast corner of the park to discuss logistics. A cardboard sign with the agenda listed announcements, housekeeping and security.
‘Believe in Sharing’
One man at the meeting said that a proposal to not engage in activity that would draw police attention needed to be more clear, saying it was hard to define what behavior will attract law enforcement.
“Our movement is expanding so quickly that we’ve been meeting constantly to expand our infrastructure,” one of the organizers, Julien Harrison, 29, from Eugene, Oregon, said in an interview. Harrison said he’s been at the site for two weeks.
Nearby, a group of six children and five adults sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.” The children held yellow signs: “We believe in: fairness,” “We believe in: sharing.” The children were joined by Peter Yarrow of the former folk group Peter Paul & Mary. He played acoustic guitar while they sang “The Banks Are Made of Marble.”
At the far west end of the park, a sign read, “NYPD Protects and Serves the Rich.”
Nader Vossoughian, 38, a professor of architecture who has brought his 2-year old daughter to the protests, said he isn’t afraid of being arrested. His family, which includes 10-month-old twins, makes him feel more accountable for their future amid concerns of poverty, inequality and government mismanagement, he said.
“If civil disobedience has to be part of the conversation with my children, so be it, because that’s what this country was built on,” Vossoughian said yesterday in lower Manhattan.
Across from the park, three police cars restricted traffic flow at Broadway and Cedar Street, keeping it to one lane for the few blocks between the protest site and Wall Street. A man holding a sign saying “Nazi Banker” flanked the metal barricades next to an empty storefront of now-bankrupt Borders Group Inc.
“The American government needs to get their heads out of these big glass buildings,” said Jason Moses, 25, who graduated from Pace University with a law degree and has yet to find a job. Moses said he’s willing to do any kind of legal work, and estimates it will take him 15 years to pay off his loans.
Linnea M. Palmer Paton, a graduate student at New York University who works as an unpaid intern, is a press liaison for the demonstrators. She said she’s there to protest lobbying and the lack of real jobs.
Work For Free’
“How long can I afford to work for free?,” she said, adding that she’s considering dropping out of her last year at NYU.
Regular marches in the area were scheduled for the afternoon, as well as a teachers’ union march, according to the protest’s information desk.
The civil rights case is Garcia v. Bloomberg, 11-06957; the transit suit is Samuelsen v. Kelly, 11-06947, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).