As Occupy Wall Street plans big, nationwide demonstrations for Tuesday's "general strike," the City of New York is still dealing with the protesters it rounded up in the biggest single Occupy-related mass arrest: The 732 taken into custody on the Brooklyn Bridge last October. So far, about 90 percent of those cases have been resolved, almost all through either outright dismissals or what's called an adjournment in contemplation of a dismissal, in which charges are dismissed for six months and then permanently if the defendant has stayed out of trouble. Of the 686 who had charges filed by the city, nobody's been sentenced to jail, nor has anyone paid a fine. Of course, the harshest punishment anybody faced for getting arrested on the bridge was 15 days for disorderly conduct -- the same as a traffic ticket, said the Martin Stolar, the lawyer representing most of the protesters.
According to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, 80 of the 732 cases that started with arrests on the bridge on Oct. 1, 2011, remained pending as of Friday. About 30 percent of those arrested have had their cases dismissed outright, the DA's office said. Almost all of the rest took ACDs. Those 80 whose cases are still pending include people who have pleaded not guilty, refused to take an ACD, and whose charges the city has not decided to drop, such as Malcolm Harris, the young man who recently lost his challenge against the subpoena of his Twitter information.
While the very latest figures for how many cases were dismissed outright and how many were resolved via ACD were unavailable, the DA's office did provide The Atlantic Wire with that information on February 17. At that time, the office reported that a total of 300 people arrested on the bridge had taken ACDs. Another 174 had been dismissed outright because there wasn't enough evidence. "The DA has dismissed a huge number of cases because they didn’t think they could prove them beyond a reasonable doubt," Stolar said via telephone on Tuesday.
The arrests on the bridge fell into three categories: Live arrests, desk appearance tickets, and summonses. Summonses work just like traffic tickets and desk appearance tickets require "fingerprinting and photographing the recipient," The New York Times' Colin Moynihan wrote in February. Four hundred and sixty three of the marchers received summonses, of which 18 are still pending, the DA's office said. Two hundred and sixty three received the so-called DATs, of which 59 are still pending. Live arrests, of which there were a total of nine, mean the defendant stayed in custody after his or her arrest and was arraigned directly, usually within 24 hours. Three of those are still pending.
In total, 634 of the 732 cases stemming from the bridge arrests have been resolved. The DA's office said 80 were pending, but didn't specify what happened with the remaining 18. "As far as I know, nobody’s plead [guilty] from the Brooklyn Bridge," Stolar said.
Stolar had threatened to "clog the courts" by going to trial on each case if charges against all the arrestees weren't dropped. Now that most have been either dismissed or disposed of through ACDs, a much smaller stack of cases is heading for trial. "I would say that any time there are mass arrests, and mass arrests that continue, it puts a burdon on the court system," said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration. But he said: "It’s a burden that the court system will meet. We’ll fulfill our mandate."
Only those who plead or are found guilty can be held responsible for the $120 surcharge meant to offset court costs, but Bookstaver said the bridge arrests didn't necessarily cost the courts extra money to process, since everybody with the job of processing them would be paid to work anyway. "It doesn’t cost the taxpayer any more money because that is our function and folks are on salary and that’s what we do," he said. "If you add an extra, hypothetically, 100 to 200 cases to the docket, folks have to work harder and things take a little longer, but it doesn’t cost any more.”
It's hard to predict whether Tuesday's May 1 actions will result in mass arrests on a similar scale. There's a full day scheduled, with rallies and marches planned all over the city. But no Occupy action in New York has come close to matching the sheer number of arrests police made on the Brooklyn Bridge in October, even when an estimated 30,000 protesters rallied days after the eviction of Zuccotti Park. Some 240 were arrested then. Tuesday's the biggest action planned since then, but unlike the October 1 march, it's on a weekday, not a Saturday. Then again, the day culminates in a 5:30 p.m. march from Union Square to Wall Street, which should allow people to join in after work. If things take an unexpected turn, as they did onto the Brooklyn Bridge last October, we could potentially see a repeat of those hundreds of arrests.