Occupy protesters in New York, Wisconsin sue over free speech

Reuters News

4/30/2012 8:08:46 PM - Reuters News

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A flurry of civil rights lawsuits accusing police of stifling free speech of Occupy Wall Street protesters have been filed ahead of a May 1 effort to reinvigorate the movement against economic inequality.

Four members of New York's City Council and others in a lawsuit accused police of using excessive force during protests in New York City, birthplace of the movement against corporate greed.

Their lawsuit, filed on Monday, was among at least three filed in recent days by supporters and protesters from the Occupy movement, which has called for massive demonstrations in New York and elsewhere around the country for Tuesday, the May 1 labor movement holiday in many countries.

The City Council members accused New York police of trampling protesters' rights to assembly and free speech during demonstrations that began on September 17, 2011 but lost momentum after the group was evicted from its encampment in New York's Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011.

In the 150-page lawsuit, police were also accused of false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

"This unlawful conduct has been undertaken with the intention of obstructing, chilling, deterring and retaliating against plaintiffs for engaging in Constitutionally protected protest activities," the lawsuit said.

The police conduct was so outrageous, the lawsuit said, that the court should appoint an outside monitor for future demonstrations.

A second federal lawsuit filed in New York accused police of violating protesters' right to free speech by trapping them inside metal barricades outside a Manhattan hotel where President Barack Obama was speaking on November 30, 2011. In the lawsuit, protesters asked for a court order to allow them to move in and out of barricades at future demonstrations.

DECLINED COMMENT

New York City's attorney, Muriel Goode-Trufant, declined to comment on the lawsuits, saying her office has not yet received the legal papers.

In Madison, Wisconsin, the American Civil Liberties Union argued for a temporary restraining order on Monday to block the eviction of an Occupy encampment near the state capitol. Citing First Amendment rights, the ACLU in a case against the City of Madison urged the judge to allow several dozen protesters to continue to live in the roadside tent village where they have been since October 2011.

In a related development in New York on Monday, 20 demonstrators - including activist Princeton University Professor Cornel West - went on trial on disorderly conduct charges stemming from their October protest of the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy.

Prosecutors offered to drop the charges under the condition the protesters do not get arrested again for at least 6 months. But the protesters' lawyer, Martin Stolar of the National Lawyers Guild, said that was rejected to make a statement against the policy that has been criticized as overly aggressive and discriminatory.

"The demonstration itself was political to make a point, and the trial is following through on exactly the same political point," Stolar said.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Wisconsin, and Joseph Ax and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Vicki Allen)