Student photographers settle protest arrest suit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Three student photographers arrested during a September 2002 anti-war and anti-globalization protest settled a lawsuit in December against the District of Columbia.

The students claimed they were wrongfully arrested and that police violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Corcoran College of Art and Design students said they were taking photographs of the protest for a photojournalism class assignment — and not participating in the protest — when police arrested them.

The students’ lawyer, Brian Malone, said each student received between $7,000 and $10,000 in the settlement.

The settlement came less than six months after the D.C. Office of Professional Responsibility released a report stating that officers failed to give protesters and bystanders a chance to leave the park and therefore acted improperly when they cordoned off the park.

The report also said police probably violated the protesters’ right to free speech because the police had no probable cause for arresting every person inside the park.

An estimated 400 people were arrested in Pershing Park during the protests, though not all of those arrested were protesters. Students, journalists, innocent bystanders and protesters were all arrested on charges of failure to obey an officer. Some of the arrested were detained for more than 20 hours.

Four lawsuits against the city stemmed from the arrests.

“The government cannot simply fix upon an area of the city and decide that because some people are doing something that they don’t like then they should arrest everybody inside the area,” Malone said. “The students’ main interest was not that the city silenced them, because they were there for school, not to exercise their voices.”

At the same protest, four student journalists with George Washington University’s student newspaper were arrested while taking photographs of protesters. Three of the school’s law students were also arrested while observing the protest. The seven filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that police violated their First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

According to their lawsuit, the police actions “prevented [them] from participating in protected activities, including the exercise of their rights of free speech and association.”

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor representing the students, said the case will probably go to trial. He said both sides are in deposition and discovery.

“The District has recently admitted in court that they did not have a legal right to arrest the people. They admit that they did not give an order to disperse or an opportunity to disperse,” Turley said. “Discovery has revealed statements from a couple of officers who say that they raised the fact that there was no probable cause to make the arrests.”

In the last hearing, Turley said, the judge repeatedly referred to the officer’s conduct as “horrible.”

“We have an extreme level of confidence that we will prevail,” Turley said. “But this is a process that is moving at a glacial pace.”

He said there were settlement discussions with the city, but no agreements were reached.