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$18M settlement for 2004 RNC arrests lawsuits in New York

AP-CVN-PROTESTS

An anti-Bush banner makes its way with marchers along Seventh Avenue in New York in August, 2004. Thousands gathered on the eve of the Republican National Convention, launching a raucous day of protests and demanding the United States withdraw from Iraq.

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NEW YORK — New York City has agreed to pay $18 million to settle dozens of lawsuits filed by protesters, journalists and bystanders who said they were wrongly arrested at the 2004 Republican National Convention, lawyers said today.

The settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, would end nearly a decade of legal wrangling over more than 1,800 arrests, mostly on charges of disorderly conduct or parading without a permit. Hundreds sued, saying they were illegally arrested by an overzealous police department.

Lawyers with the New York Civil Liberties Union had previously asked the judge hearing the class-action case to conclude that police didn’t have probable cause to make mass arrests during the convention, at which President George W. Bush was nominated for another term.

The city argued for dismissal, arguing that nearly 800,000 people demonstrated during the convention and only a small fraction of them were arrested. The convention was watched over by as many as 10,000 officers from the 35,000-member police department, the nation’s largest. They were assigned to protect the city from terrorism threats and to cope with tens of thousands of demonstrators.

Both sides said in a joint statement that it was best to settle. The city won’t admit guilt under the agreement, which amounts to about $6,400 per plaintiff and about $7 million in attorney fees.

Celeste Koeleveld, a city attorney, said it was important to defend the case.

“We are proud of the major victories we achieved,” she said in a statement. “Among other successes, the constitutionality of key police policies used during the RNC was upheld, and an effort to restrict the NYPD’s ability to police large-scale events was rejected.”

The NYCLU and others were planning a news conference for later today.

Prior to today’s announcement, 142 other plaintiffs who sued over the arrests had settled with the city for a total of about $1.8 million, mostly in 2007.

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