Posted 12:01 a.m. Oct. 17
by Marcus Mrowka
U-WIRE (DC BUREAU)
(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON–Seven George Washington University students, many of them student journalists, filed a lawsuit against the city of Washington, D.C. on Monday after they were arrested during last month’s IMF and World Bank protests.
The students are arguing that their Constitutional rights were violated as journalists and observers when they were swept up in a mass arrest in Pershing Park along with hundreds of political advocates.
The lawsuit alleges that authorities violated the students’ rights under the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments and accuses the D.C. police of “abusive confinement” and denying the students access to counsel.
This marks the first suit filed after the Sept. 27 incident where hundreds of protestors, journalists, and observers were confined in downtown D.C. for over two hours by police in riot gear and then arrested. Many of those arrests spent hours in temporary jails, handcuffed ankle to wrist.
Over half the plaintiffs are GW Law School students who were serving as observers for the National Lawyers Guild at the time of their arrest. The others are journalists and photographers for one of the GW campus newspapers, The Hatchet.
“These students had a Constitutional right to observe and report on [the protests],” says Attorney Daniel Schwartz who is representing the students on a pro-bono basis.
Schwartz says his clients were not allowed to disperse the area and should “not have been subjected to unreasonable search and seizure” by the police.
“Many [of the students] were held shackled on buses for up to 8 hours after their arrest,” Schwartz says. Once at the jail the students were subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” and many were shackled in a fetal position for the duration of the night.
Police say the students failed to adhere to their orders to disperse, but the students in question say they never heard an order and couldn’t leave the scene because of the police blockade.
“It is the responsibility of the police to ensure that everyone hears the order to disperse,” Schwartz says.
GWU Law Professor Jonathan Turley is also representing the students involved and is calling into question the constitutionality of the “trap and arrest” method police used throughout the day. Turley said the suit seeks to get the “trap-and-arrest” tactic declared unconstitutional and to clear the arrests from the records of students and others.
“The police do not have a license to operate outside of the U.S. Constitution when faced with demonstrations,” Turley said in recent press release.
Turley said that The George Washington University and its students are especially vulnerable to the trap-and-arrest technique.
“Since these protests occurred virtually outside their dormitories and schools, students simply walking to the corner would have been subject to arrest,” he said.
D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey is defending the arrests that took place during the protests.
“If they filed a suit, that’s their right, and we’ll answer it when the time comes,” Ramsey told the Washington Post. “I don’t have any problem with any of the actions taken during IMF weekend.”
The city, the police department, the U.S. Park Police, the federal government and individual officers and officials have all been named in the suit.
The city has 30 days to answer the complaint and the federal government has 60, but the plaintiffs believe the complaint will be answered soon.
“Once they answer, we’ll go from there,” said Schwartz.