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Video Helps World Bank Protester’s Arrest Suit

WASHINGTON (CN) - A man whose arrest at the 2010 World Bank protest was filmed may show that police roughed him up, a federal judge ruled.

Shane Westfahl sued District of Columbia Metropolitan Police over his arrest at a protest march against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on Oct. 9, 2010.

Police have told the court that officers began to cordon off disorderly protesters who were walking in the street against traffic, throwing newspaper dispensers and banging on cars. Westfahl was part of a group that the officers, including helmeted members of a bicycle squad, began herding along the wall of an office building.

While Westfahl claims to dropped a flagpole he was carrying after officer Robert Robinson pushed him toward the wall, several officers testified that Westfahl either brought his flagpole down on Robinson's helmeted head, or struck him with the butt of the stick.

They say they had to beat Westfahl with batons because he would not present one of his arms so that they could handcuff him. Westfahl on the other hand says his arm was simply stuck underneath him during the officers' arrest.

An amateur video from the protest "appears to show that the flagpole never struck an officer," U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper wrote last week, while sorting out competing motions for summary judgment.

Though Cooper dismissed some of the charges against the police department, most of Westfahl's civil rights allegations will move forward against the officers involved.

"Because genuine questions of fact exist regarding the reasonableness of some of the officers' conduct, the court will deny both parties' motions as to Westfahl's Fourth and First Amendment, assault and battery, false arrest, and defamation claims against certain individual defendants," Cooper wrote.

It is too early to tell whether Robinson was justified in wrestling Westfahl to the ground and whether Officer Todd Cory was justified in arresting him for assaulting Robinson, the judge ruled.

Officer Daniel Thau and Sgt. Craig Mack have immunity as to claims that they hit Westfahl with a baton and grabbed Westfahl around the waist, the court found.

But the video, "while unclear, appears to support his [Westfahl's] testimony" that his arm was pinned beneath him, rather than swinging it about to avoid handcuffing, as the officers contend, according to the ruling.

Westfahl as such can advance claims that Robinson and Cory hit him once he was on the ground, as well as the charge against Cory for false arrest.

Citing Cory's testimony "that he believed protesting the World Bank could be considered a hate crime," Judge Cooper said there is a "reasonable inference that Westfahl's participation in the protest may have motivated his arrest."

As such, the First Amendment charges against will move forward against Cory. The First Amendment charges against Robinson, Thau and Mack were dismissed.

A jury should decide as well whether Robinson and Cory defamed Westfahl by publishing written statements that he assaulted a police officer, the court found.

The court did dismiss Westfahl's abuse-of-process claim, his charges against the force for municipal liability, and his claims regarding an inhaler that was allegedly kept from him while he was in custody.

While Westfahl's allegations "raise legitimate concerns about potential shortcomings in MPD's investigation and discipline methods," Cooper said "specific inadequate practices do not necessarily evidence a deliberate indifference to constitutional violations if the city's overall policies demonstrate that it has undertaken efforts to reduce the illegal use of force."

The claim about the inhaler fails meanwhile because of "the reasonable basis for MPD's policy of withholding arrestee's medical device," and Westfahl's lack of long-term injuries.

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