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April 16, 2008
To settle a lawsuit, the New York Police Department has agreed to formalize changes it had made in its crowd-control procedures during political demonstrations, the authorities said on Tuesday.
The lawsuit was filed in 2003 by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of antiwar protesters who said they had been treated harshly by the police. The suit charged that the police trapped protesters inside pens and blocked off “avenues of escape” while approaching on horseback, causing people to be knocked down.
The civil liberties group sued on behalf of three people: a woman who said she was trapped behind a police barricade and had her wheelchair broken by an officer when she tried to leave; a man who said he was stepped on by a police horse and injured; and another man who said he was knocked down by someone who had been struck by a police horse.
“This settlement is an important step toward assuring that the N.Y.P.D. will not be an obstacle to peaceful protest,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the civil liberties group, which made copies of the settlement available on Tuesday.
The agreement was approved on April 1 by Judge Robert W. Sweet of Federal District Court in Manhattan . Under the settlement, the department agreed to pay $125,000 in legal fees and damages to plaintiffs.
Connie Pankratz, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said on Tuesday that the court settlement “doesn’t require the N.Y.P.D. to implement new procedures, but rather, formalizes procedures that they already have in place.” She said the department had abided by similar crowd-control rules for many years, including in 2003, when the lawsuit was filed.
As part of the settlement, the police agreed to include new language on crowd control in its written guide for officers. For example, the new instructions say that police barriers should “not unreasonably restrict access to and participation in the event,” and the revisions say that officers on horseback are “to ensure that a crowd or group to be dispersed has sufficient avenues of escape and/or retreat.”
The rules also say that the public must be informed about access routes to demonstrations when sidewalks or roads are closed.
In June 2004, before the Republican National Convention was held in Manhattan that year, a preliminary injunction by Judge Sweet ordered the department to abide by rules similar to those now being formalized.
While the settlement order by Judge Sweet said that the city and the police “deny any liability arising out of the plaintiffs’ claims,” it said the city had agreed to pay $25,000 in damages.
The city also agreed to pay $100,000 to the civil liberties group for legal fees.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs