NEW YORK -- The city has agreed to pay nearly $600,000 to settle allegations that police wrongfully arrested a group of Occupy Wall Street protesters, marking what their lawyers Tuesday called the largest settlement to date in a single Occupy-related civil rights case.
The $583,000 pact involves 14 demonstrators who said police ordered them to leave but prevented them from doing so and arrested them in lower Manhattan early on New Year’s Day 2012. The disorderly conduct cases got dismissed, according to the protesters’ federal lawsuit, which argues they were arrested "for expressing their views."
"We were out there to send a message, and our rights were suppressed," one of the demonstrators, Garrett O’Connor, said Tuesday. The 34-year-old labor activist said police tackled him to the ground as he tried to follow their order to clear out.
City lawyers said settling "was in all parties’ best interest."
"This involved a fast-evolving, complicated policing situation occurring over many hours," city attorney Andrew Lucas said in a statement.
The march unfurled after a restive New Year’s Eve in Zuccotti Park, the lower Manhattan plaza where the anti-economic-inequality Occupy protesters had set up camp from the previous September until the city rousted them that November. Some 68 people were arrested there on that New Year’s Eve when police said the protesters tore down barricades surrounding the park.
Shortly after midnight, some others set off to walk en masse to Manhattan’s East Village.
Lucas called the march "rowdy and tumultuous" at a court date last fall, according to a transcript. But the protesters’ lawsuit says they behaved peacefully and obeyed traffic laws, and police at times blocked traffic to let them cross streets safely together.
But then, in the East Village, officers boxed them in and made arrests, the suit says.
Video supplied by their lawyers, the firm Stecklow Cohen & Thompson, shows officers saying the demonstrators are blocking the sidewalk and will be arrested if they don’t leave, while some protesters ask how they can. Some footage shows police pointing out ways the demonstrators can go; subsequent parts show arrests beginning.
Police have made more than 2,600 arrests on various charges at Occupy-related events over time. The Manhattan district attorney’s office agreed to dismiss more than 78 percent of the cases. More than 400 people pleaded guilty or were convicted at trials, 11 were acquitted, and judges dismissed some other cases, according to the DA’s office.
There’s no official list of Occupy-related settlements, but lawyers involved track them informally. They include $230,000 that the city and Zuccotti Park’s private owner are paying over allegations that a book collection was trashed when the park was cleared, and $55,000 to a man arrested while shooting video at an Occupy demonstration, according to lawyers in those cases.
In the latest settlement, the individual protesters are receiving $5,000 to $20,000 apiece, and their lawyers $333,000 for fees and costs, the attorneys said.
But to protester Jennifer Peat, 36, "the point was never the money. It was that there be consequences for the actions of the NYPD."
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter (at) jennpeltz.