Federal Judges Dismiss Class-Action Lawsuit Claiming Wrongful Mass Arrest During Occupy

February 25, 2015 | Prachi Gupta

Federal judges have dismissed a class-action lawsuit claiming that police officers wrongfully arrested a group of about 700 Occupy protesters in 2011. The outcome is a reversal of the panel’s earlier decision from last summer that the lawsuit should proceed.

The demonstrators, who flooded the Brooklyn Bridge without a permit on October 1, 2011, argued that police lured them off the pedestrian walkway and onto the roadway only to corral them in. Police maintain that protesters sealed their own fate when they began blocking traffic. In June, Judge Jed S. Rakoff sided with protesters, saying, “a reasonable officer in the noisy environment defendants occupied would have known that a single bull horn could not reasonably communicate a message to 700 demonstrators,” and that therefore activists “might infer permission to enter the vehicular roadway from the fact that officers, without offering further warnings, proceeded ahead of and alongside plaintiffs onto that roadway.”

A review by a federal appellate court judge also sided Rakoff, saying the case had merit. However, in December the de Blasio administration “effectively [threw] up another roadblock to prevent the case from going to trial,” Gothamist reported, by granting “the City’s request for the case to be heard at an en banc hearing before all 22 judges who sit on the Second Circuit.”

And now, the judges have dropped the case altogether. From the AP:

The appeals court said “the failure of a thin line of police officers to physically impede a large group” of marchers doesn’t convey “an invitation to ‘go ahead.'”

“It cannot be said that the police’s behavior was anything more than — at best for plaintiffs — ambiguous, or that a reasonable officer would necessarily have understood that the demonstrators would reasonably interpret the retreat as permission to use the roadway,” the judges wrote.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund and an attorney for the demonstrators, said, “The decision sends and extremely chilling message and a green light to the NYPD that I don’t think democracy or free speech can tolerate.”

“We are evaluating all avenues in our commitment to vindicate this constitutional deprivation for the people who suffered this great injustice,” she said.

(Photo: Paul Stein)