A lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia alleging that protesters were unlawfully arrested during Occupy Philly hinges on protecting citizens’ civil rights, the plaintiffs’ attorney said on Monday.
“It’s important that, as a society, those individuals whose First and Fourth Amendment rights have been violated seek redress through the federal court system so it puts the government on notice,” civil rights attorney Paul Hetznecker, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said.
Twenty-six people — including five former or current Penn students and one professor — are suing police officials and the City of Philadelphia after they were arrested on Nov. 30, 2011 during the Occupy Philly movement. The plaintiffs were arrested after police acted on orders to shut down the seven-week-long protest in Dilworth Plaza outside of City Hall.
The lawsuit claims that the protesters were arrested without probable cause in retaliation for exercising their rights to free speech and assembly. The lawsuit also charges the police with assault and battery, among other charges.
The Philadelphia Police Department and Mayor Michael Nutter’s press office declined to respond to the allegations Monday, citing a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court last week, comes nearly two years after the arrests were made. This civil case came as a result of criminal cases against the plaintiffs, all of which were eventually dropped.
Several of the Penn-affiliated plaintiffs declined to comment on the case.
The next step in the lawsuit is the discovery phase, where the facts of the cases will be investigated — a process that could drag on due to there being many people involved in the case. Along with 10 named defendants — including the City of Philadelphia and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey — the case includes a number of unnamed police officers who were involved in the arrests.
Occupy Philly protesters gathered outside of City Hall in early October of 2011 to demonstrate against income inequality in the United States. While the Occupy movements drew harsh criticism for its tactics and message, Hetznecker said the lawsuit is not a matter of political ideology.
“We need to be vigilant regarding those rights as a society,” he said. “Regardless of whether you support their political views, you need to embrace it.”
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