- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said yesterday he will not sign legislation that would tighten restrictions on the way police handle protesters because it would limit the officers’ abilities to do their jobs.

The legislation, adopted last month by the D.C. Council, would place limits on the use of physical restraints and impose guidelines for officers to follow when they investigate protesters’ activities.

However, Mr. Williams said he will not veto the legislation, which means it will become law without his signature.

The mayor’s comments came two days after the Metropolitan Police Department said the District had settled a lawsuit involving seven persons who were arrested and detained at a Sept. 27, 2002, protest of a meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The police department denied any liability in the case, but the city reportedly will pay $425,000 to the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, was one of several brought against the city after the incident.

Another lawsuit involving three students from the Corcoran College of Art and Design was settled in January 2004.

The plaintiffs, who said they were wrongfully arrested while photographing the demonstration for a class assignment, each received between $7,000 and $10,000.

Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for D.C. Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti, said she could not discuss the settlements.

“We’re unable to comment at this time because there are other cases that are ongoing,” she said.

At issue is the way police herded nearly 400 protesters and a handful of bystanders into Pershing Park in Northwest. Officers dressed in riot gear surrounded the protesters, handcuffed and arrested them. The officers then bused the protesters to the police department’s training academy in Southeast.

Before the demonstrations, a protest group vowed to “shut down the city” and, on a Web site, posted details of a “scavenger hunt” in which points would be given for destructive acts.

Confrontations between police and the demonstrators erupted at several locations throughout the city early that morning. Protesters spray-painted slogans on an office building, broke a window and hurled smoke bombs at police lines.

The District still faces two lawsuits claiming millions of dollars in damages filed on behalf of other protesters caught up in the mass arrests.

One of them is a class-action lawsuit that represents more than 400 protesters. The civil rights advocacy group Partnership for Civil Justice, which is arguing the case, says those arrested were surrounded and detained without cause and were held in custody in often abusive conditions.

The other lawsuit involves seven student journalists from the George Washington University newspaper, the GW Hatchet. The lawsuit filed on behalf of the students says they were bystanders taking photographs of the protest for the independent student newspaper. That lawsuit is pending in federal district court.

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at the university, said the plaintiffs have been in discussions with city officials about a settlement for more than a year, although no discussions have taken place “for some time.”

“Settlement discussions with the government have not progressed to any significant stage,” he said.

He said the plaintiffs are also demanding reforms in the way police handle demonstrations and detain protesters.

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