A 74-year-old environmental lawyer filed a federal lawsuit against the city for his wrongful arrest while conversing with Occupy Wall Street protesters last year.
The suit alleges that Stephen Kass, a partner at Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, paused on his way to the subway to talk with protesters assembling behind a police barricade for the second anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests last September. His interaction with the protesters was brief—he stopped only to ask about a sign that read "Tax the Rich," and described the conversation as "pleasant and non-confrontational."
An officer asked him to move along, but Kass responded that he had a right to pause to chat with the protester, and was not blocking the sidewalk or obstructing police activities in any way. Nevertheless, two cops cuffed Kass, searched him, and brought him to a precinct station house, where he was given a summons for disorderly conduct. His case was dismissed on January 8th after the arresting officers neglected to show up at court.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a police department official said Kass was “issued a summons in lieu of arrest” after he was asked to move “at which time he became irate and stated, ‘No, I am not moving.’” Andrew Celli, whose firm is representing Kass, called that assertion "absurd."
"He was handcuffed, detained for over 90 minutes, transported to the precinct, and required to appear in court several times. It was an arrest and a prosecution. If their lawyers argued in court that it wasn’t, they would be sanctioned," he said. "Seriously."
Regarding his arrest, Kass told Newsweek that he didn't find his actions "the slightest bit unusual."
"I thought I was being a reasonable, responsible citizen," he said. "I was actually trying to find out what it was they were advocating.”
Celli said one of the goals of the lawsuit is to educate officers about protesters' rights, in addition to the rights of those who might choose to interact with them.
“Unfortunately, cases like this arise with depressing regularity,” he told Newsweek. “It seems that in New York, sometimes police don't understand that sidewalks and public spaces are for more than transportation, but are places where people engage. When they don’t understand that, people get arrested, and that’s what happened to Stephen Kass.”’