Protesters arrested during a march onto New York’s Brooklyn Bridge may seek trials, turning down an offer by local prosecutors that would dismiss charges against them six months from now, the National Lawyers Guild said.
The group represents some of the 700 protesters arrested during the Oct. 1 demonstration, part of the continuing “Occupy Wall Street” protests in lower Manhattan against the financial industry, income inequality and unemployment. Of 24 protesters arrested in a Manhattan Citibank branch in a separate incident, 11 accepted a similar plea bargain, the Guild said.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office refused to immediately dismiss charges against the Brooklyn Bridge demonstrators, the largest group arrest in New York, offering to dismiss charges against some if they aren’t arrested again in six months, a so-called adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, said National Lawyers Guild attorney Martin Stolar. While some defendants from outside New York may accept Vance’s offer, most are likely to seek trial, he added.
“These are people who are activists; they put themselves in motion with their feet and marched,” Stolar said. “They’re more principled than a random 700 people that you would single out.”
Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Vance, declined to comment.
Some of the Brooklyn Bridge protesters claimed they were tricked onto the bridge by the New York Police Department. The police department has denied the allegations. Five of the protestors sued New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly for allegedly violating their constitutional rights.
Since the protests began in New York Sept. 17, the movement has expanded in the U.S. and worldwide; on Oct. 15, the same day the Citibank protesters were arrested, around 60 others were arrested as 6,000 gathered in New York’s Times Square and the demonstrations widened to 1,500 cities including London and Rome. In the past two days alone, there have been 100 arrests in Chicago and 40 in Sydney. The San Francisco Chronicle reported 85 protesters were arrested in Oakland California this morning.
Of the approximately 780 people arrested in New York during protests on the Brooklyn Bridge and in Manhattan’s Union Square, about half who received desk appearance tickets were offered the six-month deal, the lawyer said. The other half received summonses and may face further court proceedings before a judge.
Almost all of the 780 arrested were charged with disorderly conduct, with the exception of a few misdemeanors, according to Stolar. If convicted at trial, they could face up to 15 days in prison, or a $500 fine, or both, he said. They could also be convicted but released, which would carry a $120 surcharge. They would have records of a violation, rather than a crime, and the charge would disappear from their record in about a year, Stolar said.
The guild sought to have the arrests dismissed because of uncertainty over whether the protesters knew they were doing something unauthorized, Stolar said.
At the Brooklyn Bridge, protesters said they were led onto the roadway by police; at Union Square, there was confusion over whether protests were authorized on the sidewalk or the street, Stolar said.
Legal disputes in New York are also pending over whether several protesters resisted arrest, said Rebecca Heinegg, another lawyer for the guild.
Of the 24 arrested in the Citibank branch on LaGuardia Place and charged with trespassing, 11 accepted a deal that will reduce the criminal charge to disorderly conduct, which is a violation, Heinegg said. Heinegg, who represents around 15 individual protesters, said many of her clients, including some arrested in Citibank while trying to close their accounts as a form of protest, will also choose to go to trial.
“As I understand it a bank employee locked the bank from the inside and prevented them from leaving. Police showed up and arrested them for not leaving,” Heinegg said. Those that agreed to the plea deal said they were innocent, but had jobs or travel that would prevent them from returning to court to fight the charges, she added. For the most serious criminal trespass charges, the maximum penalty is 90 days in jail.
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.
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).