MANHATTAN (CN) - After eight years, a federal judge handed activists mixed victories in a civil rights lawsuit provoked by mass arrests during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
On Nov. 22, 2004, 24 protesters sued New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and dozens of police and other officials for false arrest, punitive detention, abuse of process and other constitutional violations.
The case dragged through Manhattan Federal Court for seven years until the group earned class certification in May 2011.
U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan divided the surviving claims into six subcategories.
One group, led by the War Resisters League, planned to march uptown from the World Trade Center to Madison Square Garden for a "die-in" protesting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
But police stopped this procession at Fulton Street, arresting about 200 for obstructing traffic and other charges.
Reports trickled in that police led protesters into a bait-and-switch.
A 32-page order on Monday indicates that videotape backs that allegation.
"The undisputed facts, particularly the video, confirm that the marchers on Fulton Street were attempting to comply with police instructions and that the revocation of consent for the march came suddenly and without any realistic opportunity to disperse or correct the problems with the march," the order states.
The march near Union Square was a tougher call, the judge continued.
"In sharp contrast to the Fulton Street march, it is clear that, from the time the marchers left Union Square Park, a large number of individuals were openly and consciously violating the law," the order states. "Dozens, possibly even hundreds of people were blocking traffic by marching in the middle of Union Square East without a permit."
A jury must decide whether the cops made enough of an effort to "clear innocent bystanders from the street," the judge added.
The court also found that the protesters in the action were illegally fingerprinted, but that the controversial "no-summons" policy was permissible.
The latter policy allowed police to deny protesters summonses for violations.
"The City was not required to engage in an ineffectual game of tag, in which protestors could stop traffic, get a ticket, and proceed to their next rendezvous for further disorder," the order states. "The No-Summons Policy was tailored to this well-founded fear of recidivism, which could have rendered normally minor infractions highly disruptive and potentially dangerous."
More than 50 motions have been filed in the case, and many have yet to be resolved.
Monday's ruling, for example, only resolves two of six subclasses where mass arrests took place at the Republican National Convention.
Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the civil rights group representing the protesters, told Courthouse News in a phone interview that the city would try to settle the remaining claims now that its broad defenses failed in court.
"Now that he rejected their authority to make mass arrests, hopefully the rest of the cases will settle," Dunn said.
The judge also urged a settlement, reflecting, "The events underlying these actions occurred more than eight years, and two Republican National Conventions, ago."
He pushed for the parties to "take this opportunity to reflect on this litigation and the prospects for a fair resolution of the remaining claims" before their Oct. 31 deadline to plan the next steps in the case.
In a statement, city lawyer Peter Farrell indicated that he and his colleagues are "considering our legal options."
"The RNC demonstrations presented an extraordinary security challenge," Farrell said. "This ruling validates two City policies the plaintiffs have spent almost five years exclusively litigating -- to fingerprint arrestees and not to issue summonses."
Though the judge found the fingerprinting in the case violated state law, he refused to find the policy unconstitutional.
"The Court upheld these policies under the most exacting judicial scrutiny possible, finding them constitutional and warranted in light of the threats the City faced during the RNC," Farrell said.
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