Seven GW students are suing D.C. and the U.S. Park Service for what they allege were violations of their constitutional rights when they were arrested during World Bank/International Monetary Fund protests last month.
GW Law professor Jonathan Turley and two D.C. attorneys, who are representing the students free of charge, filed suit in U.S. District Court Tuesday.
Three of the plaintiffs are law students who were legally observing the demonstrations for the National Lawyers Guild, and four are photographers for The GW Hatchet, including the assistant photo editor, who were covering the events for the newspaper.
The students were among hundreds arrested in Pershing Park near the White House Sept. 27 for disobeying a police order to disperse during an un-permitted demonstration. Protesters and observers in the area at about 9:30 a.m., when the arrests occurred, have said they heard no such order and were not permitted to leave when they tried.
Turley alleges police used unfair tactics that he calls “trap and arrest” to corral the crowd and clear the area.
“The September protests represent the largest application of the trap and arrest technique,” Turley said, explaining that officers had previously used the method during World Bank/IMF protests in April 2000. “I started getting phone calls Friday night at my house.”
According to The Washington Post, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has defended the Metropolitan Police Department’s actions, citing protesters’ potential to vandalize property, block streets and shut down the city.
While law enforcement may have flexibility in dealing with large crowds such as those at the demonstrations, Turley said, “the police do not have the authority to operate outside the Constitution.”
Turley also said the mass arrest was a tactic to “suppress the demonstrations by removing large numbers of people from the street.”
Law students Rayming Chang, Amy Chastain and Elizabeth Young were legally observing the demonstrations for the National Lawyers Guild. Legal observers document any abuses by law enforcement officials during demonstrations.
“Past anti-globalization rallies had result(ed) in serious allegations of abuse, include physical assaults,” Turley said, naming World Bank/IMF protests in Seattle in December 1999.
Hatchet photographers Young Choi, Meaghan Enright and Leanne Lee and Assistant Photo Editor Chris Zarconi are also listed in the suit.
“Four of our photographers were arrested with their film and they were detained for 27 hours,” said Hatchet Photo Editor Andrew Snow, who was also taking pictures at the demonstrations but was not arrested. “They were unable to post pictures on the Web for breaking news and it delayed our production for our Monday edition.”
The suit also alleges abusive conditions of confinement on the part of MPD, who held students and others arrested on buses and at the MPD Police Academy in Southwest for more than a day.
Some students said they were held with their wrists handcuffed to their ankles until that afternoon. Others were not released until 27 hours later, according to court documents.
Students reported being given different options once held at the Police Academy. Most paid either a $50 or $100 fine to be released.
Turley said the suit is seeking a jury trial and punitive damages to expunge the students’ police records and “determine these practices of arrest and confinement to be unconstitutional.” He said his legal team is likely to file an expanded suit, with additional litigants that may include non-student observers and protesters, in the future.
“These are the best of our student body,” Turley said. “These students are people who were engaged in precisely the type of activity we encourage as academics. One of the reasons students come to GWU is to participate in these exciting public events.”