The city has confirmed it will pay a multimillion dollar settlement for lawsuits stemming from the 2004 Republican National Convention, in which 1,800 protesters, journalists, observers and bystanders were notoriously arrested en masse by the NYPD.
According to a joint statement from the city's Law Department officials and plaintiffs, "Nearly all of the remaining plaintiffs and the City of New York have agreed to settle outstanding claims arising out of events surrounding the 2004 Republican National Convention," marking the end of years of drawn-out litigation. The city will pay close to up to $18 million in damages, with up to $10.3 million going to the plaintiffs; the average plaintiff will receive about $6,400; last month, the city said it had already spent $16 million on its own lawyers’ fees and expenses.
Both the city and the NYCLU, which went to battle for the protestors, seem to see the payout as a win for their respective sides. City lawyers argue that they "achieved substantial legal victories" during the protracted litigation, including "affirming police officers’ authority to make large group arrests in demonstration settings" and blocking the release of NYPD surveillance records of individuals in the months leading up to the RNC. The City says it chose to settle due to "fact-specific disputes" over the arrests; in 2012, a federal judge ruled a mass arrest of nearly 200 people at the World Trade Center was illegal, and rejected the city's claim of permissibility regarding another mass arrest of nearly 400 people at East 16th Street. According to a city Law Department press release:
At this stage of this long-running litigation, now that the plaintiffs' systemic challenges to the NYPD's policing efforts have been rejected, it makes sense to resolve plaintiffs' fact-specific disputes about the 16th Street location and dozens of other locations. The settlement will also resolve additional claims regarding post-arrest detainment of both individual and class-action plaintiffs. While the City continues to dispute these claims, resolving them now significantly reduces the City’s potential exposure.
The NYCLU, meanwhile, notes that the settlement is the largest protest settlement in history, making it a major victory. "No lawful protester should ever be treated like a criminal in New York City, or anywhere else in the United States,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “This historic settlement must serve as a reminder to New York City and government across the country that the right to protest is a fundamental pillar of a fair and functioning democracy. And it is the role of government and law enforcement to not only tolerate protest, but protect and defend it.”
Not only have hundreds of protestors claimed unlawful arrest, many of them were detained for over 24 hours for processing in a filthy constructed detention center at a pier formerly used as a bus depot, and not issued standard summonses and desk appearance tickets. The federal judge who ruled against the mass arrests in 2012 did not, however, take issue with the NYPD's post-arrest handling and detention of the protestors. An NYCLU report [pdf] from 2005 notes that many believe the NYPD was intentionally arresting and detaining protestors "to keep them from participating in demonstrations taking place while the President was in the city." The NYPD denies those claims.