By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York police officers employed excessive force, unjustified arrests and pervasive surveillance in violation of the rights of Occupy Wall Street protesters, a report from a group of human rights lawyers said on Wednesday.
The report documents 130 incidents of alleged abuse by law enforcement authorities and calls for the creation of an independent inspector general to monitor the New York Police Department.
"Many of the reported allegations individually indicate clear violations of the government's obligation to uphold assembly and expression rights," said the report by the Global Justice Clinic at New York University's School of Law and the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham Law School.
"When considered together, a complex mapping of protest suppression emerges."
Police officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have defended the city's response to Occupy protests, which began in September in opposition to economic inequality and resulted in thousands of arrests, most for minor offenses.
"The NYPD accommodated lawful protests and made arrests when laws were broken, and showed restraint in doing so," Paul Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman, said in a statement.
NYU and Fordham are part of a group of seven law clinics that formed the "Protest and Assembly Rights Project" last year to study the governmental response to the Occupy movement, which inspired protests and encampments in cities nationwide.
Future reports will include analyses of the police response in Boston; Oakland, California; San Francisco; and Charlotte, North Carolina.
The New York report relied on a number of sources, including interviews with protesters, lawyers, journalists and legal scholars; photographs and hundreds of hours of video; media reports; and court documents. In addition, the report used eyewitness accounts from a number of people who served as legal observers at protests, monitoring police action.
Requests for interviews with police and city officials were either rebuffed or received no response, the report said.
POLICE ESCALATED TENSIONS
It cited numerous incidents in which it said police officers employed excessive force without sufficient provocation.
The report also said journalists covering the movement were subjected to a pattern of harassment, including the use of force, restrictions on access and arrests. In particular, it said credentialed journalists were barred from covering the overnight raid that cleared the main Occupy encampment at Manhattan's Zuccotti Park in November.
Constant police surveillance of Occupy events in some cases appears to violate legal restrictions on police monitoring of protests, known as the "Handschu Guidelines" after the landmark case that led to their creation, the report said.
The intimidation and use of force served to escalate tensions while having a chilling effect on the right to free speech and assembly, the authors concluded.
In addition to calling for an inspector general to monitor the NYPD, the report said there should be an investigation into the police response to Occupy Wall Street.
"Protesters, journalists, legal observers and lawyers interviewed for this report often voiced a lack of confidence in the mechanisms available for holding police accountable for misconduct," the report said.
NYU law Professor Sarah Knuckey, one of the two principal authors of the report, said she hoped the U.S. Justice Department would consider investigating the NYPD's conduct if the city refused to do so.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Eric Beech)