Rights groups sue city of Pittsburgh over G-20 arrests

[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) [advocacy websites] on Monday filed a federal lawsuit [press release] against the city of Pittsburgh, Police Chief Nathan Harper and more than 15 police officers on behalf of 25 people arrested during the September 2009 Group of 20 (G-20) Summit [official website; JURIST news archive]. The complaint [text, PDF], filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania [official website], alleges that police officers violated protesters' First Amendment rights of assembly and Fourth Amendment [text] protections against false arrest when conducting a mass arrest using excessive force during a September 25 peaceful demonstration and falsely charging those attempting to obey police orders with failure to disperse and disorderly conduct. ACLU-PA Legal Director Witold Walczak said:

Police declarations that peaceful anti-government demonstrations are illegal and arrest of participants in the assembly are a hallmark of totalitarian regimes, a practice the U.S. rightfully decries when it happens in Iran or Russia. Unfortunately, the same practice occurred in this country during last year's G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, and now occurs regularly at demonstrations involving national security events, like political conventions and international trade meetings.
The criminal charges against all 25 plaintiffs, 13 of which are University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University [academic websites] students, were eventually withdrawn or dismissed. Last year, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. [official website] indicated that some of the University of Pittsburgh students arrested during the G-20 protests [JURIST report] may have been used as pawns [JURIST report] by protesters and those looking to cause damage, when announcing he would drop the charges against four students. It is believed that more than 190 people were arrested during the protests.

Pittsburgh has been greatly criticized for its handling of the G-20 protesters. In December, the ACLU-PA and the CCR extended and continued a lawsuit [JURIST report] against the City of Pittsburgh for allegedly violating the rights of two protest groups during the G-20. According to the amended complaint [text, PDF], Pittsburgh police officers repeatedly violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment [text] rights of Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence (3RCC) [advocacy websites]. The ACLU-PA and CCR originally filed the lawsuit [JURIST report] in September 2009. According to the ACLU-PA, police deployed throughout the city in a manner that prevented lawful demonstrations [JURIST report], suppressed free speech and failed to prevent criminal activity. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) [advocacy website] also questioned the methods used by police during protests in the Lawrenceville and Oakland [JURIST reports] sections of Pittsburgh and noted that individual officers lacked visible identification, frustrating the work of NLG and ACLU legal observers.

 

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