A federal lawsuit filed early this week by New York City Council members, Occupy protesters, and journalists asks the court to appoint an independent federal official to monitor the city police department's practices regarding First Amendment rights.
The suit, which names as defendants Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and a number of police officers, alleging that the department has engaged in "systematic violations" of their First Amendment rights.
In addition to the monitoring, the suit seeks monetary damages, said Yetta Kurland, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
While the lawsuit names over a dozen individuals as plaintiffs — and more may be added, Kurland said — the lead plaintiff is Ydanis Rodriguez, a member of the New York City Council. On Nov. 15 at approximately 2:00 a.m., Rodriguez went to observe the police eviction of Zucotti Park. After he identified himself as an elected official, the police informed him that he could not proceed past the police line, according to allegations made in the complaint. The complaint goes on to allege that, despite complying with this directive, Rodriguez was "attacked and arrested" by officers.
Rodriguez was "beaten and bloodied," said Kurland.
Other plaintiffs in the case include three other city council members, as well as John Knefel, an Occupy protester and Internet journalist, and Stephanie Keith, a freelance photojournalist whose work has been published in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Keith extensively covered the Occupy protests, according to the complaint.
Police violation of First Amendment rights has been a long simmering issue in New York, with past efforts to establish oversight met with resistance by the police, Kurland said.
The City Council has tried in the past to establish oversight of the police, with those efforts being opposed by the Giuliani administration. A New York appellate court rejected the attempt as intruding upon the mayor's authority over the police in 1997, in Mayor of the City of New York v. Council of the City of New York.
Despite the failure of the legislative effort, there are "so many problems that federal litigation is necessary," she said.
"We hope this will allow for the police department to protect and serve the public," said Kurland. "We don't believe the police want to be at odds with the public."
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