Suit filed ahead of popular Puerto Rico festival

AP News
Posted: Jan 15, 2014 6:58 PM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking a court injunction to block new security measures at this week's popular street festival in Puerto Rico's capital that draws hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists.

The lawsuit came a day before the San Sebastian festival begins in historic Old San Juan, where Mayor Carmen Yulin has ordered police for the first time to search everyone who attends. Officials have said there will be metal detectors and that people's bags and purses will be searched.

The ACLU called the searches unreasonable because they are not preceded by a judicial order or prompted by probable cause.

"The threat of violating the constitutional rights of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans is imminent," the lawsuit states.

An estimated 500,000 people attended the festival last year, and many are wondering how the new security measures will be implemented on a crowd of that size.

Residents in Old San Juan also decried other security measures, including the installation this week of fences to block access to certain streets.

"By closing and blocking an access, you're also closing an exit," the Old San Juan Neighbors Association said in a statement, citing safety concerns.

Yulin met with ACLU officials before the lawsuit was filed, but she said the measures are needed.

"The security plan we created aims to protect life and property to the fullest during an event of this magnitude," she said.

Puerto Rico has struggled with violent crime in recent years, with a record 1,136 killings reported in 2011 on an island of 3.7 million people. Last year, a 32-year-old man was fatally shot at the crowded festival.

The festival has been held yearly since 1970 and features music, art and food over the span of four days.