Lawyers on behalf of five elected officials and half a dozen members of the press filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the City of New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority , the NYPD, Brookfield Properties and JPMorgan Chase are in violation of numerous civil rights, including the First Amendment right to free speech and assembly. The suit seeks redress for police misconduct during arrests made during the Occupy Wall Street protests and asks that a federal independent monitor be appointed to oversee the NYPD in order to safeguard the public.
The 143-page complaint submitted by a group of civil rights attorneys, including Leo Glickman, Yetta G. Kurland and Wylie Stecklow, was filed today in United States District Court for the Southern District and includes a 24-minute video which highlights the use of excessive force and selective enforcement which many have claimed has become an issue since Occupy Wall Street began.
The suit also addresses the city’s relationship with JP Morgan Chase, which donated $4.6 million to the NYPD during this time, as well as the fact that members of the press and elected officials have been arrested while observing and reporting on these protests.
One of the plaintiffs, New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was bloodied and arrested on November 15 for attempting to observe the eviction of Zuccotti Park, stated, “While my charges were dismissed, the bigger issue still remains, namely that the NYPD misused their power and did not respect my First Amendment or the New York City Charter, which gave me the right to act as an observer.”
New York City Council Member Letitia James, another plaintiff in the suit, said, “This is about accountability, but it is also about ensuring that we have a proper balance of powers in this city. People should not be afraid to suffer harm from the police when they express their First Amendment right to assemble.”
New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito has also joined the suit, remarking, “Some of us in the City Council are looking to address these issues legislatively, in the meantime we will avail ourselves of the United States judicial branch to ask for its help to ensure our police properly protect the public they are entrusted to serve.”
Jumaane Williams, another New York City Council Member, made the point that this affects everyone, not just OWS protestors. “We hope this suit will help all New Yorkers, as well as the NYPD,” he said. “We believe officers should not be put in a situation where they are asked to act in a way which results in this type of misconduct or puts them at odds with the public.”
John Knefel, a journalist and radio show host who was arrested while covering a protest in the publicly accessible Winter Garden in the World Financial Center because he didn’t have NYPD-issued press credentials, is also one of the plaintiffs. “It is of course concerning that the public is arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights, but it is likewise concerning that members of the press are arrested when they try to cover this,” he said.
Justin Sullivan, another plaintiff and citizen press journalist who assembled the video exhibit for the suit, said, “I was arrested while covering someone else being arrested for complaining about someone else being arrested for doing a ‘mic check.’ This is not how our police should act.”
Copies of the complaint are available here.
This post is a press release received by The Occupied Wall Street Journal.