Three antiwar activists filed suit against the City of Tacoma on Fri., Mar. 6, charging that Tacoma police commmitted false arrest and other violations inviolation of U.S. law during the Port Militarization Resistance protests that roiled the Port of Tacoma for two weeks in March 2007.  --  Elizabeth Rivera Goldstein, Thomas McCarthy, and Phan Nguyen "hope to force the City of Tacoma to forgo illegal repression against constitutionally protected activity, including but not limited to the arbitrary repression of antiwar protests," a press release said.[1]  --  The News Tribune reported on the suit in Tuesday's paper.[2]  --  BACKGROUND:  United for Peace of Pierce County's support for the lawsuit can be deduced from a statement adopted by the group on Apr. 5, 2007:  "[T]he job of the Tacoma police is to keep the peace, not to unleash excessive force on demonstrators in an attempt to discourage citizens from exercising their rights.  It is not their job to erode them through measures like the illegitimate ban of backpacks and bags that was evoked several times by police at the Port of Tacoma last month.  If the police are to deserve the trust of the people, they must uphold the law of the land and the rights of citizens."  --  I was a witness to McCarthy's arrest and posted an account of the event which can be read here....


Press release


March 6, 2009

On Friday, March 6, 2009, three activists filed a lawsuit against the City of Tacoma for false arrest and other violations committed by Tacoma police during an anti-war demonstration. Elizabeth Rivera Goldstein, Thomas McCarthy, and Phan Nguyen were arrested under the pretext of wearing backpacks in a “no-backpack zone” at the Port of Tacoma in March 2007.

The activists had been demonstrating against the Iraq “troop surge” and the expedited deployment of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division to Iraq from Ft. Lewis. For two weeks in March 2007, the Port of Tacoma was the focal point for demonstrations against the deployment, as Stryker vehicles were being shipped out through the Port of Tacoma in advance of the 4th Brigade’s actual deployment.

During this time, Tacoma police established a fenced-in “free speech zone” in the Port of Tacoma where demonstrators were compelled to congregate. Police set up random checkpoints to prevent the demonstrators from entering the “free speech zone” while wearing backpacks and purses. The checkpoints appeared arbitrarily at varying locations and at various times throughout the protests. At times, the restrictions were arbitrarily applied to backpacks, purses, bags, buckets, boxes, and even plastic water bottles. All restrictions were established without probable cause.

Thomas McCarthy was arrested on the night of March 9, 2007, while attempting to carry a backpack with food and medical supplies into the “free speech zone.” Elizabeth Rivera Goldstein and Phan Nguyen were arrested along with six other demonstrators on March 11, 2007, for wearing backpacks into the “free speech zone.” Goldstein’s backpack contained a teddy bear, while Nguyen’s “frontpack” contained a copy of the United States Constitution.

Because there is no law prohibiting bags at political assemblies, the city charged the activists with “Disobeying an Officer” under RCW 46.61.015 -- a traffic offense. However, the defendants were arrested on a public sidewalk by police who were not regulating traffic. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t walking down the sidewalk drunk,” says Nguyen, “or they probably would have arrested me for DUI.”

The cases were dismissed in Tacoma Municipal Court, and the dismissals were affirmed in Superior Court after the city appealed the decision. The criminal court process concluded in September 2008. “We spent one-and-a-half years in court arguing for the most basic rights that every child learns about in grade school,” says Nguyen, who represented himself during the criminal court process, while Goldstein and McCarthy were represented by Attorney Larry Hildes. Hildes is representing all three in the lawsuit and has indicated that more plaintiffs may join in.

“These arrests were part of a systematic attempt by the Tacoma Police to prevent the demonstrations from occurring and to be so repressive and brutal that the plaintiffs and others would just give up and abandon their First Amendment rights,” Hildes said. “They treated peaceful demonstrators like terrorists very deliberately and systematically. That is unacceptable and illegal.”

Hildes had won a similar case concerning a backpack at a demonstration in Graves v. Coeur D’Alene (9th Circuit Court, 2001).

The present complaint asserts that the plaintiffs were subjected to several violations by the City of Tacoma, including violations of civil rights, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. They were deprived of several rights under the U.S. Constitution, including deprivation of their 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights.

By filing the complaint, the activists hope to force the City of Tacoma to forgo illegal repression against constitutionally protected activity, including but not limited to the arbitrary repression of antiwar protests. “We can never allow our local governments to undermine the U.S. Constitution and our First Amendment rights,” said McCarthy.

“The Tacoma police went beyond their mandate by issuing arbitrary and unlawful orders,” added Nguyen. “They sought to regulate free speech by deciding where we could exercise our rights and what we could and couldn’t wear while doing so. The Tacoma police are not the fashion police.”


By Ian Demsky

News Tribune (Tacoma, WA)
March 10, 2009

Three anti-war protesters arrested at the Port of Tacoma in 2007 filed suit against the Tacoma police on Friday, claiming the department’s officers illegally restricted their right to peaceably gather and speak out.

The federal lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from the city and a long list of individual officers for alleged violations of their civil rights, as well as false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and other grievances.

It seeks to change the way police handle future demonstrations, Bellingham attorney Lawrence Hildes said.

“They treated a group of nonviolent demonstrators whose worst possible offense was to commit civil disobedience as if they were terrorists,” he said. “People exercising their rights are not the enemy or the opposition.

“The founding fathers put this right first because they knew that if you cannot peacefully petition the government for redress of your grievances, there’s no lawful, peaceful means to protect any of the other rights.”

Legal advisers for the Tacoma Police and the city said they had not yet been served with the lawsuit and therefore couldn’t comment. The city does not generally comment on pending litigation.

For 12 days in March 2007, demonstrators rallied at the Port of Tacoma using the shipment of Stryker vehicles en route to Iraq as a touchstone. Police arrested 37 people. Of those, two were convicted in Tacoma Municipal Court of obstructing a police officer and were fined $100 each. A third was convicted of obstructing as well as resisting arrest and misdemeanor assault on a police officer and was fined $300, the News Tribune previously reported.

Each of Hildes’ three clients, Thomas McCarthy, Phan Nguyen and Elizabeth Rivera Goldstein, was charged with disobeying a officer. Those charges were dismissed when a judge ruled the law pertained to traffic enforcement not crowd control.

The city appealed the dismissals, but the Pierce County Superior Court upheld them. The court left the door open for the city to file different charges, but no new charges have been filed.

McCarthy, 34, of Tacoma, was arrested for trying to carry his backpack into a designated protest zone. He had food, water and medical supplies in case anyone got hurt, he said.

“It’s pretty clear this isn’t going to self-correct,” McCarthy said, citing a 2003 city settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union in which the city paid more than $25,000, mostly in attorneys fees, over how much it charged the Tacoma Leonard Peltier Support Group for a parade permit.

Nguyen, 34, of Olympia, said the backpack he was arrested for trying to carry into the “free speech zone” contained a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

“I did not feel like I had to give up my backpack just because a police officer said so without probable cause,” he said.

Hildes says in the suit that more demonstrators may join the action.

Ian Demsky: 253-597-8872