D.C. agrees to settle lawsuit with student photographers arrested at protest

The attorney for three Corcoran College of Art and Designstudents said Jan. 5 that the District of Columbia has agreed to settle alawsuit alleging that police wrongfully arrested the students during a massiveanti-war and anti-globalization protest in September 2002.

Terms of thesettlement have not been finalized, but Brian Malone, the students’ attorney,said they could receive $7,000 to $10,000 each.

In their lawsuit, thethree students at the Washington D.C. college said they were taking photographsof the protest for a photojournalism class assignment when D.C. police arrestedthem on charges of failure to obey an officer of the law. The charges were laterdropped. The students said they were bystanders and were not participating inthe protest.

The Corcoran students’ lawsuit is one of four stemming fromthe D.C. police department’s decision to cordon off Pershing Park and arrest theestimated 400 people inside it on Sept. 27, 2002. One of the lawsuits was filedby four student journalists on the staff of the George Washington Universitynewspaper, The Hatchet. The George Washington students also claim theywere bystanders taking photographs of the protest for the newspaper. Theirlawsuit is pending in federal district court.

In September 2003, the D.C.Office of Professional Responsibility released a report that found that policeacted improperly when they cordoned off the park because officers failed to giveprotesters and bystanders a chance to disperse. The report also said the policeprobably violated the protesters’ right to free speech and that police had noprobable cause for arresting every person inside the park.

SPLC View:This case illustrates one reason why the public demands accountably from lawenforcement agents. (See Mercer University story, above.)