George Washington journalism, law students sue over arrests

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Four student journalists and three law students from George Washington University, who were arrested during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank protests, filed a federal lawsuit last week claiming their constitutional rights had been violated by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Attorney General and the National Park Service.

The lawsuit contends that the students were not engaged in any illegal conduct by being present during the Sept. 27 protests at Pershing Park because of their roles as legal observers for the National Lawyers Guild and as photographers for the universities student newspaper, The Hatchet.

Jonathon Turley, George Washington law professor and attorney for the students, stated in the complaint filed in federal district court that the methods police used to arrest and detain the students violated their First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendment rights, as well as some federal statutes.

During the IMF protests, police mass arrested protesters, journalists and bystanders alike with the “trap and arrest” method, Turley said. Using this tactic, police outline a zone that is cordoned off and arrest anyone who is caught within the area. The courts have yet to address the constitutionality of this “trap and arrest” method.

“Under this policy, the police sought to suppress the number of demonstrators by encircling and then arresting hundreds of individuals who were prevented from leaving the arrest zones,” Turley stated in a press release.

The students contend that the police gave no order to disperse before arrests began, Turley said. And they were refused the right to leave the confined area even after they provided identification, such as press credentials.

The lawsuit further challenges the procedures that police officers used in detaining the students and protesters for excessive periods of time, up to 30 hours.

The university students were handcuffed and detained on city buses for several hours before they were transported to the Metropolitan Police Academy for processing. There they were handcuffed wrist to ankle and placed on mats shared with 10 other detainees, Turley said.

Among the long list of violations, the student’s claim the police denied their access to attorneys before entering their plea, Turley said. The George Washington students all pled no contest and paid a $50 to $100 post and forfeit fee in order to end their detainment.

Turley is seeking a jury trial to expunge the students’ police records and is asking for punitive damages. The court also will be posed with the question of the constitutionality of the “trap and arrest” tactic.

Chang v. United States; Media Counsel: Jonathan Turley, George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

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