Tuesday, 02 October 2012 17:05

Judge Rules Mass Arrests of NYC Demonstrators in 2004 Unconstitutional

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"The Fourth Amendment does not recognize guilt by association," U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan wrote in ruling that the New York Police Department illegally arrested a large number of demonstrators during the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York's Madison Square Garden. The ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that police lacked probable cause for many of the arrests, because they had no knowledge or reason to believe that the individuals arrested had broken the law.

"An individual's participation in a lawbreaking group may, in appropriate circumstances, be strong circumstantial evidence of that individual's own illegal conduct," Sullivan wrote in his 32-page opinion. "But, no matter the circumstances an arresting officer must believe that every individual arrested personally violated the law. Nothing short of such a finding can justify arrest. The Fourth Amendment does not recognize guilt by association."

The judge's ruling, dated Sunday, was on the claims of one group of plaintiffs arrested on Fulton Street on August 31, 2004. They are among the hundreds who filed false-arrest claims following their arrests during the convention. The demonstrations spread to other parts of the city and led to confrontations with the police. The ruling opens the city to the possibility of having to pay damages for the illegal arrests, the New York Times reported.

But the judge rejected claims that police had violated First Amendment rights by fingerprinting the arrestees and taking them to court, rather than issuing a summons for a court appearance. Sullivan ruled that the no-summons policy was a legitimate response to "a threat derived from intelligence sources — namely, that demonstrators aimed to 'shut down the City of New York and the R.N.C.' through 'continuous unlawful behavior,' " and that they "would be undeterred by the issuance of summonses." The judge added that the policy "was in place only for the brief duration the threat existed."

Thus, both sides claimed victory in the court's decision. The ruling "validates two city policies the plaintiffs have spent almost five years exclusively litigating — to fingerprint arrestees and not to issue summonses," said Peter Farrell, an attorney in the city's Law Department. "The court upheld these policies under the most exacting judicial scrutiny possible, finding them constitutional and warranted in light of the threats the city faced during the R.N.C. We are reviewing the remainder of the decision and considering our legal options in that regard," he added.

New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer Christopher Dunn, representing some of the plaintiffs, hailed the decision as one that "emphatically rejected the city's claim that it could make mass arrests of protesters."

"With this ruling," Dunn added, "the time has come for the city to put this controversy behind it, to settle the rest of the convention cases, and to make sure that mass arrests never happen again here."

Bob Curley, a lawyer from Philadelphia, was arrested near Fulton Street with his son, then 16, and held for 16 hours. He expressed his pleasure with the judicial rebuke for the mass arrests, a policy he described as an effort to "discourage dissent." "I was pretty shocked when it happened," he told the Times in recalling the arrest. "I said to my son this isn't the America I grew up in."

Photo: A handcuffed person is carried by New York police to a waiting vehicle after being arrested during a demonstration across from the World Trade Center site in Manhattan on Aug. 31, 2004: AP Images

2 comments

  • Comment Link J. Warren Clark Wednesday, 03 October 2012 14:16 posted by J. Warren Clark

    How can America correctly defined in action, be America threatened?
    How does the core American activity become a threat to America?
    These two questions are the substance of the whole issue.

    This report is short on analysis whether that comes from a legal mind (apparently a really rare thing) or from an ordinary citizen who knows how to think.
    Lets look at a couple of things. When Peter Farrell, an attorney in the City's Law Department says, "The court upheld these policies under the most exacting judicial scrutiny possible, finding them constitutional and warranted in light of the threats the city faced during the R.N.C. This is on the surface simply not true; it is pure Beelzebub. For example, when the judge argues that the policy of the NYC Police Department "was in place only for the brief duration the threat existed" he completely avoids one of the most important features of the law (principle) itself. Laws that are by definition arbitrary are an offense to reason itself and cannot in any way serve the creation or preservation of a genuinely free republic--much less place a claim upon our allegiance and consent! To suggest then that the "temporary" nature of the policy and not its constitutionality is the critical thing is to argue (and affirm!) that the specific rules the general (law) and not the other way around which is not only proper but the only thing that is in fact intelligible. This decision is made by someone who is in fact unhooked from the only thing that can make his decisions both reasonable and good, the law itself! That the police go on an official rampage for only a short time does not make that either reasonable or legal. That is just nonsense and akin to the old joke that the girl was "just a little bit pregnant." To say then that the court used "the most exacting judicial scrutiny possible" is just nonsense. Thinking IS thinking FROM first principles (i.e., laws) and what does not use those first principles as a guide to any rational decision process is just not thinking at all!
    Next, lets look at the the City's "intelligence" sources. We do not know who and what those sources are and we certainly do not know why they are used as a substitute for what the Law demands, namely legitimate warrants issued under the procedures laid out with the most "exacting scrutiny possible" in the Constitution itself. The truth is it doesn't matter. The law (the Constitution) does not care who says what about citizens who are involved in First Amendment (i.e., political) activities! Those are protected along with the right to gather and seek redress of grievances.
    So, why was the judge intimidated by the claims of the City that it was threatened by "Lions! And tigers! And Bears, oh my!"? That is just nonsense and places an imaginary chimera before the ancient, no eternal, substance of the Law! How did political process, gathering in the streets (and during political conventions!) become in the judge's mind not America defined, but America threatened. How does the core American activity become a threat to America? This is just stupid and in fact quite Orwellian and it is pretty clear to me that the "decision" was a judicial compromise designed to quiet dissent at the same time that it made sure that nothing really changes. In other words, it is just a seeming, a curtain behind which those who oppress us, those who violate real American principles, can continue to do so. Thank you Judge Sullivan.
    And one more thing; why did this "decision" take two election cycles, 8 years? Did they have to get a copy of the Constitution from inter-library loan or dig up an old copy from the Library of Congress? Doesn't Judge Sullivan own a copy? Or is his allegiance elsewhere?
    And how much longer will it be before the plaintiffs see any cash from this, and more importantly, how long will it be before the City of New York is required to pay enough punitive damages to encourage them to come into line with simple constitutional principles? My guess is that many of us will be long gone before this has any true solution.
    These are all good questions. I hope the reporter will bring himself into line with them as well as the rest of my readers. This is very very important stuff.
    Jay Warren Clark, Citizen of a dying republic

  • Comment Link lastofall Wednesday, 03 October 2012 02:08 posted by lastofall

    The conclusion which was already known only took eight years. On the other hand those in office are they whom the people wanted, and continued for two years after that. We behold these things, but the majority liked it so; if not, they would have not allowed the continuation of what offended them.

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