NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · NINTH CIRCUIT · Newsgathering · Sep. 18, 2006
Protesters harassed at WTO conference reach settlement
Sep. 18, 2006 · The city of Seattle has agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a lawsuit with two protesters who say their free speech rights were violated during the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in 1999.
Victor Menotti and Doug Skove said police targeted them because they were talking about WTO policies and displaying signs with content police did not like, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU also challenged the city’s decision to create what became known as a no-protest zone around the WTO meeting.
Police patrolled the borders of the zone, created after the mayor issued a civil emergency order. Nobody, including residents, emergency personnel and business owners, was allowed into the zone unless they had official WTO business.
ACLU officials said the zone “violated rights of free speech and assembly, and did so without even the real possibility of providing any real security,” according to a report.
In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle (9th Cir.) determined police cannot arrest people based on the content of their message, even if special circumstances exist. The court sent the case back to a trial court to determine if the city had barred only people who expressed anti-WTO views from entering the zone, thus violating their First Amendment rights.
Menotti traveled to Seattle on official business for the International Forum on Globalization, a non-governmental organization. Police arrested as he spoke to a journalist and interested citizens after leaving a WTO conference building.
Skove was also speaking to a journalist when police seized a sign reading on one side “Is the WTO in Control of Seattle Also?” and “I Have a Right to Non-Violent Protest” on the other. They noted he was not allowed to protest in the area.
Several journalists also complained they were harassed by police at the conference, which drew thousands of protestors and resulted in numerous arrests.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Kery Murakami was arrested while covering the protests. He was released after a night in jail and charges were dismissed two days later.
Menotti and Skove are not the only people to settle with the city. Three plaintiffs who were originally part of the lawsuit settled with the city for $5,000 each in August 2000.
In a separate case in 2002, the ACLU sued the city of Seattle for failing to disclose a key WTO-related document under the Freedom of Information Act. They won, forcing the city to pay the group’s legal fees.
Doug Honig, a spokesman for the ACLU of Washington, said the case shows that civil rights don’t fly “out the window” during contentious times.
“Seven years after,” he said, “it shows as a reminder for future protests that the Bill of Rights does apply even when the city declares a state emergency.”
(Menotti v. Seattle, Media Counsel: James Lobsenz, Carney Badley Spellman, Seattle, and Aaron Caplan, ACLU) — KO