Serendipity! -- Or should that be synchronicity? -- Just as Tacoma's citizen's police review board is about to consider (this evening, Mon., Apr. 2, at 5:30 p.m., in Room 16 of the Tacoma Municipal Building North, 733 Market St., Tacoma, WA 98402) the behavior of police toward peaceful protesters at the Port of Tacoma last month, a settlement of a longstanding legal case against the City of Seattle for police actions in the 1999 World Trade Organization protests comes to remind authorities that the violation of citizens' constitutional rights can be expensive. -- On Monday, attorney Michael Withey announced that the City of Seattle has agreed to pay $1 milion to a group of people arrested in Westlake Park in 1999 while peacefully protesting the World Trade Organization, and to seal and expunge records of their unconstitutional arrests, it was announced Monday. -- A news release said: "Perhaps most significantly, the City has agreed to incorporate key court rulings from the Hankin case into police training. Those rulings make clear that police lacked probable cause to arrest both the peaceful protesters at Westlake and others arrested outside the 'no protest zone.' Improved training will help ensure that police officers will protect individuals' constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure in the future." -- Lead plaintiff Kenneth Hankin, a Boeing fuel systems engineer who spent three days in jail in 1999, said: "The verdict and this settlement not only vindicate the rights of the people who peacefully and lawfully protested in 1999, but will help ensure that future dissent is treated as intended in a free society." -- The outcome of Hankin v. City of Seattle is the result of seven years of litigation and work by a legal team a Public Justice. -- In a comment, Erica Kay said: "Seattle, Tacoma, and other cities cannot ignore this settlement or the jury's finding that the city violated our Fourth Amendment rights and arrested us wrongfully. Those cities must re-learn the lessons of the 1999 WTO protests. The correct lesson is that violating instead of protecting the rights of people expressing their views is wrong and it comes at too big a price. This million-dollar settlement represents another flunking grade for the city of Seattle on its handling of the WTO protests." -- The settlement, which is getting international attention, brings to about $1.8 million the amount paid out in suits arising from the violation of citizens' rights in connection with the WTO protests, AP noted. -- The Seattle Times reported that "The money will cover the plaintiffs' legal fees, with the rest divided among 160 protesters." -- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted that "A court must still approve the proposed settlement." -- A Jan. 30 news release by Public Justice described the court decision that was a prelude to the settlement announced Monday. ...
For immediate release
Monday, April 2, 2007
Contact in Washington: Deborah Mathis, Communications Director, at (202) 797-8600 Ext. 246
Contact in Seattle: India Simmons at (206) 229-2501
SEATTLE TO CLEAR ARREST RECORDS, PAY $1 MILLION TO WTO PROTESTERS WRONGFULLY ARRESTED IN 1999 ** Settlement Requires Overhaul of Police Training **
April 2, 2007
SEATTLE -- In a landmark settlement reached by Public Justice on behalf of scores of people arrested in 1999 while peacefully protesting the World Trade Organization, the City of Seattle has agreed to seal and expunge the records of what a jury earlier determined to be their unconstitutional arrests by Seattle police.
In addition, the settlement mandates that the City improve police training in order to prevent unconstitutional mass arrests in the future. Finally, the City will pay $1 million to compensate the protesters for the violation of their constitutional rights and the costs of bringing the lawsuit.
Following an 11-day trial in January, a civil court jury found the City liable for violating the protesters' Fourth Amendment rights. The verdict in Hankin v. City of Seattle and settlement followed seven years of litigation and determined work by the Public Justice legal team.
"It s a shame when justice is delayed any length of time, especially seven years," said lead plaintiff Kenneth Hankin, a Boeing fuel systems engineer. "The verdict and this settlement not only vindicate the rights of the people who peacefully and lawfully protested in 1999, but will help ensure that future dissent is treated as intended in a free society."
The class action lawsuit, filed in 2000, arose from the events of December 1, 1999, when police corralled and arrested approximately 175 people who were peacefully protesting the WTO in downtown Seattle's Westlake Park. The City had invited and encouraged the WTO to hold its ministerial conference in Seattle. By the time the conference began in late November, tens of thousands of individuals and organizations with a range of concerns from globalization and labor to endangered species and human rights converged on the city to protest WTO policies.
After one day of widespread but largely peaceful protest, Seattle's mayor declared a swath of the downtown business core off-limits to all but certain citizens in what many observers saw as an exaggerated response to isolated disturbances by some individuals. Although the order did not specifically prohibit protests within the area, city officials and Seattle police called it a "no protest zone." Hundreds of peaceful protesters were then arrested.
All charges against those arrested in the "zone" were later dropped, but not before many of the demonstrators were held in jail for up to four days until the WTO conference had ended. No police officers were ever reprimanded or disciplined by the City.
Based largely on testimony by Seattle Police Department leaders, Public Justice co-lead trial counsel Michael Withey argued that the arrests adhered to City policy or, at minimum, had been approved by policymakers within the department. The jury agreed, finding that the City was responsible for the unconstitutional arrests. In addition to Withey, the plaintiffs were represented at trial by Public Justice co-lead trial counsel Tyler Weaver of Seattle; Seattle attorney Fred Diamondstone; and attorney Leslie Bailey, the Brayton-Baron Fellow at Public Justice.
After the jury verdict, Seattle faced further litigation on the damages owed to the peaceful protesters it unconstitutionally arrested. To avoid the trials, the City agreed to settle the case.
"This settlement brings to a close an important chapter in the history of this City," said Withey. "The lesson to draw is that the full constitutional rights of citizens can be guaranteed at the same time public safety is secured. The court, the jury, and now the City of Seattle have validated this vital principle. We are proud to hold the city accountable and to contribute to this important victory."
Weaver said he was pleased that the Westlake Park demonstrators would be compensated, but that the full outcome of the case has a much more significant meaning.
"Most importantly, the jury's verdict in this case is a sign that our Constitution is alive and well," Weaver said. "I am hopeful that this case will send a message not only to the City of Seattle but to cities around the country that mass arrests of peaceful, law-abiding protesters will not and cannot be tolerated."
Diamondstone noted that the settlement serves "an important lesson for police departments around the country that have looked to Seattle's WTO experience when large numbers of protesters gather in other large cities. The proper lesson is to avoid repetition of the fiasco in Seattle by allowing peaceful protesters to gather, as guaranteed by the Constitution," Diamondstone said.
Pursuant to the settlement agreement, which is subject to court approval, the City of Seattle has agreed not only to seal its own records of the arrests, but also to formally request that other agencies expunge any records they may have received or maintained regarding the December 1, 1999 arrests. The City will also notify the agencies that the Westlake class members were never tried or convicted of any offense. The sealing and expungement of arrest records is of particular importance to members of the class, who were concerned about the potential effect on their reputations and good standing in the eyes of law enforcement.
Perhaps most significantly, the City has agreed to incorporate key court rulings from the Hankin case into police training. Those rulings make clear that police lacked probable cause to arrest both the peaceful protesters at Westlake and others arrested outside the "no protest zone." Improved training will help ensure that police officers will protect individuals' constitutional rights against unlawful search and seizure in the future.
The monetary settlement negotiated by Public Justice will secure a financial recovery for each protester in the range of $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the number of class members who file claims. The settlement fund will be paid with insurance proceeds, rather than by City taxpayers.
In addition to the trial team, the plaintiffs were represented by Public Justice Staff Attorney Victoria Ni and Public Justice Executive Director Arthur Bryant.
For more information on Public Justice or this case, go to www.publicjustice.net.
TIME TO SEND POLICE DEPARTMENTS BACK TO THE CLASSROOM
By Erica Kay
First, PHEW! It's been SEVEN YEARS since we were wrongfully arrested, in my view, to stifle our speech about the WTO. In those seven years, the City of Seattle has denied wrongdoing and, far worse, actively tried to teach other cities the wrong lessons from the WTO protests! No doubt you've heard the recent *New York Times* news story about how New York City spied on activist groups to prepare for the 2004 Republican Convention. Where do you think they got the names of groups and people to watch? Of course we all remember other mass protests since Seattle 1999; we know police departments in places like Washington, D.C., New York, Miami, Chicago, and others learned from Seattle how to violate, not protect, free expression. As recently as last month here in the Pacific Northwest during protests at the Port of Tacoma, we saw inappropriate police tactics like pre-emptive arrest and use of teargas and pepper spray against lawful, peaceful protesters.
Seattle, Tacoma, and other cities cannot ignore this settlement or the jury's finding that the city violated our Fourth Amendment rights and arrested us wrongfully. Those cities must re-learn the lessons of the 1999 WTO protests. The correct lesson is that violating instead of protecting the rights of people expressing their views is wrong and it comes at too big a price. This million-dollar settlement represents another flunking grade for the city of Seattle on its handling of the WTO protests. Similar lawsuits in other cities are giving flunking grades there, too. It's time to send police departments back to the classroom! And in Seattle, as in other cities like Washington, D.C., this settlement does just that.
I of course am thrilled that this particular struggle to set things right has succeeded to the degree that it has and in ways that I think will have some positive impact. That said, I don't want to forget that the arrests at Westlake were not the only wrongs done to protesters that week or since. The Westlake case was the one where the courts could serve as the venue for setting wrongs right. People present then are well aware that use of "less lethal weapons" (pepperspray, tear gas, rubber bullets, etc.), broad restrictions on where protesters could go, and general police mayhem caused much harm to individuals attending as well as to the community.
The chilling effect on expression was also profound. As an organizer, I know how much harder it is now to convince people they have a right to speak out and that, if they do, the police might treat them with respect. People remain afraid of tear gas, arrest, and other police repression. I hope we all will keep the heat generated by this settlement and cases in other cities focused in places that can help thaw that chill: forward articles about this settlement to police and other departments in your city.
Finally, a reminder that people arrested at Westlake DO need to "sign up" now to get their part of the settlement. I assume when the money is actually paid out in a few months, we who get the money can do some positive media work (independent and mainstream.) The more people involved, the stronger our message will be. Please talk about this to everyone, so the word will reach Westlake arrestees we don't know how to reach after 7 years!
SEATTLE TO PAY $1 MILLION TO WRONGLY ARRESTED WTO PROTESTERS
April 2, 2007
SEATTLE -- The city has agreed to pay $1 million and improve training for police officers to settle claims that about 175 people were wrongly arrested during a peaceful WTO protest in 1999.
The case went to trial in January, and a federal jury found Seattle liable for violating the protesters' constitutional rights. The settlement announced Monday avoids a damages phase to determine how much the city owed.
"The police can respect the constitutional rights of protesters and at the same time protect the public safety," said Mike Withey, lead attorney for the protesters.
As part of the settlement, which must be approved by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, the city will seal the arrest records and ask any other law enforcement agencies that received copies to expunge them, Withey said. Each protester will be eligible to receive $3,000 to $10,000, and some of the settlement will be used to pay legal fees.
The case was brought by the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm Public Justice.
A spokesman for Mayor Greg Nickels did not immediately return a call seeking comment. The settlement will be covered by insurance, Withey said.
The trial stemmed from the mass arrest of protesters at a downtown park Dec. 1, 1999, where they were sitting and singing patriotic anthems. That week, 50,000 demonstrators had swarmed Seattle, overwhelming police and closing down parts of the World Trade Organization meeting.
The park was in a "no-protest" zone established by the mayor, but officers did not have probable cause to arrest the protesters and made no effort to determine whether they had legitimate reasons to be in the zone, such as shopping or attending WTO meetings as delegates, Pechman determined. The officers also did not keep proper arrest records, she ruled.
As part of the settlement, the city agreed to issue copies of Pechman's rulings in the case to police cadets and line officers -- training that should help prevent unlawful mass arrests in the future, Withey said.
Ken Hankin, a Boeing worker who was arrested that day, said he was pleased the settlement had been reached, but added that the prospect of receiving a few thousand dollars seemed paltry compared to the violation of his rights. He spent three days in police custody and wasn't released until the WTO meetings had ended.
"I lost my right to protest the WTO," he said. "That's something I feel very upset about."
Seattle previously paid about $800,000 in more than a dozen WTO lawsuits.
SEATTLE TO PAY WTO PROTESTERS $1 MILLION
By Bob Young
April 2, 2007
The city of Seattle will pay $1 million to WTO protesters who were arrested in Westlake Park seven years ago and will clear their records, in a settlement announced today.
The money will cover the plaintiffs' legal fees, with the rest divided among 160 protesters, who will get roughly $3,000 to $10,000 per person, said Mike Withey, their attorney.
"We think the cash settlement does send a message that what Seattle did was wrong and we shouldn't have been denied our constitutional rights," said Ken Hankin, a Boeing engineer and one of the arrested protesters.
The $1 million will come from the city's insurer, not taxpayers, Withey said. The city has already paid $800,000 to settle multiple claims involving police misconduct during the WTO protests.
Withey said today's announcement "closes a chapter in Seattle history" because it marks the last of the legal cases stemming from protests and arrests involving 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.
Seattle police officers will also receive training on why the department lacked probable cause for mass arrests, Withey added.
"Nothing is going to replace the time spent in jail and the lost right to protest WTO," Hankin added. "But I feel good about the settlement because it shows the city and the police are willing to accept some changes in their training, and we hope the police follow through and won't do this again."
A federal jury ruled in January that the city was liable for unlawful arrests of the protesters. The jury also determined that the arrests did not violate the protesters' free-speech rights because they were not made as a result of a city policy.
City Attorney Tom Carr could not be reached for comment on the settlement.
CITY TO CLEAR WTO ARREST RECORDS
By Colin McDonald
April 2, 2007
The WTO protestors who were arrested seven years ago in Seattle's Westlake Park could see their records cleared and a $1 million settlement for their illegal arrest, according to an announcement made this morning by the plaintiffs.
The money from the class action lawsuit would be used to cover legal fees and be divided among the estimated 175 protestors who were arrested on Dec. 1, 1999, in the park.
The proposed settlement, which was announced today by Public Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm, also would require Seattle to improve training of its officers in dealing with mass arrests.
A court must still approved the proposed settlement.
In January, a federal jury found the city of Seattle had violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the protestors when it made a blanket arrest of everyone in the park. According to court documents and video tapes of the arrest, many of those charged were not told what they were being arrested for or given an opportunity to leave the park before the arrests started.
The city of Seattle already has paid $800,000 to settle more than a dozen lawsuits and claims.
JURY FINDS CITY OF SEATTLE VIOLATED CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS OF WTO PROTESTERS
** Public Justice Case Scores Triumph for Fourth Amendment **
January 30, 2007
[PHOTO CAPTION: Kenneth Hankin, center, and his Public Justice attorneys Michael Withey, left, and Leslie Bailey, meet reporters after the winning verdict on Jan. 30.]
In a sobering decision for law enforcement officials, a Seattle civil court jury found Tuesday that the City unconstitutionally arrested scores of peaceful demonstrators during the 1999 World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle.
More than 175 peaceful demonstrators were arrested in downtown Seattle’s Westlake Park, part of a “no protest zone” hastily designated by city officials as the WTO meetings got underway. The conference drew about 50,000 protestors to the city, a few of whom were violent, triggering what observers say was an overreaction by police and the abrupt zoning order that incorporated much of the downtown district.
Brought by Public Justice (formerly Trial Lawyers for Public Justice), a Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm, the lawsuit charged that the demonstrators were unconstitutionally arrested, rounded up because of their anti-WTO sentiments. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman earlier ruled that the city had violated the demonstrators’ Fourth Amendment rights, finding police had no probable cause for the arrests and that the demonstrators were engaging in constitutionally protected speech when they were arrested.
“I am happy that a jury looked at all the evidence of what happened," said Ken Hankin, 42, a Seattle fuel systems engineer and lead plaintiff in the Public Justice class action suit, which was filed in 2000. Hankin and other protestors in the Westlake Park area were arrested and jailed for up to four days. All charges were later dropped.
“I sincerely hope that what happened to us in Seattle does not happen to peaceful protesters again, whether in this city or anywhere else in our country,” Hankin added.
Michael Withey, Public Justice’s lead trial counsel in the class action, said the jury "has vindicated the important constitutional principles which we have fought for over the last seven years" and praised his clients for seeing the case through in the name of First Amendment protections.
“Our clients showed great courage and determination in standing up for these principles,” said Withey, a prominent Seattle lawyer. “While I am disappointed that the jury did not rule for our clients on all their claims, we salute the courage of the Westlake protestors for their determination to see that justice be done.”
Tyler Weaver of the Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro law firm in Seattle joined Withey on the trial team, which also included Seattle attorney Fred Diamondstone and Leslie A. Bailey, an attorney and Brayton-Baron Fellow at Public Justice.
“The jury rightly found that the City broke the law when police policymakers were willing to accept the violation of our clients’ civil rights,” said Diamondstone. “We hope that our clients’ stories will encourage city governments to be better prepared to handle situations like this in the future without illegally arresting peaceful protesters.”
Bailey said the 11-and-one-half-day trial was “a reminder” that plaintiffs from all walks must have access to the judicial system. “We are happy that our very worthy clients had an opportunity to redress their grievances,” she said. “Not everyone does.”
The City had invited and encouraged the WTO to hold its ministerial conference in Seattle. By the time the conference began in late November, thousands of individuals and organizations with a range of concerns from globalization and labor to endangered species and human rights converged on the city to protest WTO policies. After one day of widespread but largely peaceful protest, then-Mayor Paul Schell declared a swath of the downtown business core off-limits to all but certain citizens. Although the order did not specifically prohibit protests within the area, city officials and Seattle police called it a “no protest zone.”
In 2004, the City agreed to pay $250,000 to a group of demonstrators who were outside the designated “no protest zone” but were arrested nonetheless. As Public Justice lawyers showed in that case, those 155 demonstrators had not been given an opportunity to disperse before they were arrested and were booked using a single, photocopied arrest warrant.
“The clients in this case and Public Justice urge Americans to remember that the constitutional rights they cherish must not be suspended or diminished or neglected for political or social convenience,” said Hankin.
In addition to the trial team, the plaintiffs were represented by Public Justice staff attorney Vicky Ni; Steve Berman of the Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro firm; and Public Justice Executive Director Arthur Bryant.