Occupy Gets Green Light to Amend Philly Cop Suit
(CN) - Occupy Philadelphia members may amend claims for excessive force and unreasonable searches against the city and nine cops after a seven-week protest, a federal judge ruled.
The organization began camping outside Philadelphia City Hall's Dilworth Plaza and marching through the city to protest economic inequality in October 2011, the complaint states.
About seven weeks later, Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey allegedly issued an order evicting the protestors from the plaza.
Within two days, "based solely upon the anticipated march or marches," Ramsey and four other police officials decided to arrest the protestors, the plaintiffs claim.
The next morning, police officers tore down tents in the vacated plaza while many Occupiers protested - and two were unlawfully arrested - across the street, the complaint states.
Dozens of protestors then marched through Center City, followed by a "massive contingent" of police officers on foot, on bicycles, and in cars, according to the complaint.
Officials soon ordered the Occupiers to end the protest and move from the street to the sidewalk or else be arrested, the complaint states.
Though many of the Occupiers complied, nine officers on bicycles surrounded them, "corralled against the wall of a building," and falsely arrested them, according to the complaint.
Twenty-six protestors later sued the city and nine police officers, claiming they were wrongly charged with failure to disperse, obstructing the highway, and criminal conspiracy.
They say they were held in police custody for over 24 hours, suffering potentially permanent physical injury, loss of liberty, anxiety, fear, mental harm, and financial loss.
The Occupiers were released on bail and later acquitted of all charges.
They allege retaliation, civil conspiracy, excessive force, unreasonable search, assault, unlawful arrest, and malicious prosecution in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments and state law, and seek compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees.
The defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.
Senior U.S. District Judge Berle Schiller partially granted the motion May 20.
"The mere fact that the complaint fails to identify each plaintiff's and each defendant's unique role is not fatal to plaintiffs' claims," Schiller wrote. "However, some of plaintiffs' claims, by their nature, require more facts than the complaint alleges about each plaintiff's arrest and interactions with the police."
As one example, Schiller noted the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead excessive force, the ruling states.
"[T]here are no facts reflecting that defendants' contact with plaintiffs exceeded the degree of contact necessary to arrest them," Schiller wrote. "Indeed, the complaint does not describe the contact at all."
The judge later added: "The only force alleged - threats to arrest plaintiffs and restrictions on plaintiffs' movement-are routine in the course of an arrest. Although plaintiffs allege that they were arrested without probable cause, an unlawful arrest does not mean that excessive force was used."
The unreasonable search claims failed as well, as "the complaint does not state any facts about these searches, including how, why, and when they occurred," Schiller wrote.
The court did, however, allow the plaintiffs amend their complaint to offer facts to support their claims of excessive force and unreasonable search.