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NYC Liable for False Arrests at 2004 Republican Convention

The city of New York is legally liable to some anti-war protesters arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan today granted a request for a judgment before trial by protesters arrested in a march on Manhattan’s Fulton Street on Aug. 31, 2004, ruling they were victims of false arrest.

Sullivan said his review of the evidence, including hours of videotapes surrounding the convention protests, made clear that police lacked the necessary probable cause to arrest the protesters. Sullivan rejected the city’s arguments that police had “group probable cause,” permitting them to arrest members of a large group that appeared to be breaking the law.

“An individual’s participation in a law-breaking group may, in appropriate circumstances, be strong circumstantial evidence of that individual’s own illegal conduct, but, no matter the circumstances, an arresting officer must believe that every individual arrested personally violated the law,” Sullivan wrote in an opinion made public today. “Nothing short of such a finding can justify arrest. The Fourth Amendment does not recognize guilt by association.”

The group arrested on Fulton Street was protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Sullivan. Participants had planned to march from the site of the World Trade Center to Madison Square Garden, where the Republican Convention was being held. The protest was to end in a “die-in” outside the convention or wherever the march was stopped, Sullivan said in his opinion.

In his ruling, Sullivan also denied a request by plaintiffs to find that police lacked probable cause to arrest a group of protesters on Manhattan’s East 16th Street the same day.

The case is Dinler v. City of New York, 04-cv-7921, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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