The day before major Occupy protests, councilmembers sue for NYPD oversight
On the eve of what organizers predicted would be widespread Occupy Wall Street protests that could "shut the city down," four city councilmembers and several Occupy activists filed a 143-page lawsuit in federal court calling the for the creation of an "independent auditor" of the nation's largest police force.
The lawsuit also accuses J.P. Morgan Chase of helping the NYPD "suppress" oversight of the police by making a $4.6 million donation to the New York Police Foundation around the time of last year's protests.
The lawsuit cites a barricade erected by police on October 12 around One Chase Manhattan Plaza "in advance of OWS in order to bar OWS participants from entering." Later, the fence was replaced by "a private fence" owned by Chase "to keep OWS protesters out of the Plaza."
The switching of the NYPD fence for the bank's own fence "shows that Defendant J.P. Morgan and state actors conferred and conspired" with the NYPD against the demonstrators, the suit alleges.
Councllman Ydanis Rodriguez, who was arrested while trying to observe an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in lower Manhattan, is the lead plaintiff in the case.
"The NYPD has been abusing their power," Rodriguez said. "On November 15, when I was arrested, my First Amendment rights were violated."
"The attempt here is to intimidate people into silence," one of the plaintiffs, City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, said at a press conference this morning in front of City Hall. "This is about a balance of power," said City Councilwoman Tish James, another plaintiff. "Right now the only weapon we have at our disposal is to litigate, to get into court and have someone independent decide whether the NYPD is following the laws, following the laws consistently."
The lawsuit recounts efforts to reform the police department dating back to the turn of the century, including revelations by officer Frank Serpico to the Knapp Commission and efforts to block oversight by then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. "Police misconduct" according to the lawsuit "has flourished over the last twenty years in New York City and is once again reaching critical mass."
One lawyer working on the case, Yetta Kurland, said the widespread arrests are alarming, but "I think it is a greater heightened concern when we see members of the press and our elected officials being targeted in this way, being arrested for observing or covering the news related to the Occupy protests."