- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The District said Monday it has agreed to pay more than $13 million to settle a lawsuit by protesters arrested during demonstrations nine years ago.

The preliminary agreement includes a maximum payment of $18,000 to each of the 680 people who were arrested at the April 2000 protests tied to meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said the maximum payout, including attorneys’ fees, is $13.3 million. However, because of the cap on individual payouts, the total could be less, depending on how many people come forward.

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, of the Partnership for Civil Justice, said that in addition to the $13.3 million for the class, there are some additional payments for specific plaintiffs who claim they were beaten, bringing the total to $13.7 million. Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard’s group represented the plaintiffs.

According to the class-action lawsuit, protesters and bystanders were trapped on all sides by police and then arrested in a calculated attempt to disrupt days of planned protests. Many people were held for hours without access to food, water and restrooms, and some were held in stress positions, the plaintiffs said.

As part of the settlement, D.C. police assigned to demonstrations and officers from partner agencies will receive enhanced training, Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard said.

But Mr. Nickles said the police department already has changed significantly since the mass arrests of 2000 and 2002.

“I’m committed to try to get this chapter of sound and fury closed with respect to these demonstration cases,” Mr. Nickles said.

Earlier this month, the city settled a lawsuit with eight anti-war protesters arrested in 2002, agreeing to pay $450,000.

Ms. Verheyden-Hilliard said Monday’s announcement sends an important message: “People are willing to spend as long as it takes to vindicate their rights.”

The case is known as Becker et al. v. District of Columbia. It’s named after Benjamin Becker. Now 25, Mr. Becker was a 16-year-old from Baltimore when he came to the District to protest “against the broad, neoliberal, globalization agenda” with his father, who helped organize the demonstration.

After the arrests, Mr. Becker was separated from his father and taken to a juvenile facility.

His father, Brian Becker, ended up being held for hours in a stress position, with his right hand tied to his left foot, the elder Mr. Becker recalled. He refused to pay a fine and was the only demonstrator arrested that day who was brought to trial. He was acquitted of disorderly conduct and refusal to obey.

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