A federal judge yesterday approved a $76,500 settlement to 14 people and six groups who clashed with police while demonstrating against President Bush last fall. The lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia was filed by ACTUP -- AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, the National Organization for Women and several individuals, including at least one University student. The plaintiffs alleged that the police department used excessive violence and violated the protesters' civil rights during Bush's September visit to a Center City hotel. The lawsuit was filed in October. College junior Todd Wharton, who was one of the plaintiffs in the case, is out of the country and could not be reached for comment. During the protest, eight people were arrested as police tried to keep demonstrators away from the hotel. Four police officers and two protesters were injured when ACTUP members tried to break through the police barrier and enter the hotel. Violence broke out at the protest when about 20 ACTUP members pushed their way through the barricades. The police started to push back the rushing crowd with their hands, nightsticks and the barricades. Officers hit several people on their heads and bodies with nightsticks. The settlement was finalized on January 6, but U.S. District Judge William Yohn postponed approval of the settlement until yesterday in order to hear the Fraternal Order of Police's objections. "The cops will think twice before tangling with us again," ACTUP member Scott Tucker said last night. "However, Philadelphia has a history of police abuse. The real answer to this problem is to implement a civilian police review board." Tucker said he was "roughed up" during the rally and initiated the protesters' movement under the police baricade. The FOP challenged a provision in which the city agreed to provide police with extra civil rights training on how to handle public protesters. The FOP also challenged a statement in which the city acknowledges the First Amendment rights of the protesters and agrees to be liable for any violations of their rights. The union did not oppose the monetary compensation. The FOP asked Yohn to reject the settlement plan, contending it would unreasonably restrain and endanger police officers at public protests. It also argued that the plan would endanger the ability of city police to defend themselves in civil rights lawsuits. FOP president John Shaw said the union is happy with the final outcome. "We're glad it protects police officers, and we're pleased the judge allowed the FOP to intervene," Shaw said. The final settlement does not limit individual officers' ability to defend themselves under the law. Shaw said this point was "very critical language" for the police. Under terms of the settlement, the city and the police department agreed in the future that they would not "restrict, disrupt, punish, prevent or otherwise interfere with the free exercise of speech, association, assembly or petition for redress of grievances [which are] protected by the First Amendment." Amounts awarded to individuals ranged from a high of $12,500 to Coleman Terrell, who said he received head injuries, down to $750 for eight of the plaintiffs, some of whom were not physically harmed. Terrell said last night he was happy with the settlement. "What has come out of this is that the city is responsible for future violations," Terrell said. "There is a responsibility to be trained and act within the Constitution." The Associated Press contributed to this story.Comments powered by Disqus
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