Citing people familiar with the case, The New York Times is reporting that the City of New York is prepared to settle the hundreds of civil rights claims made by protesters who were arrested at the 2004 Republican National Convention. A federal judge ruled last fall that hundreds of the arrests were unconstitutional, as they were made without probable cause.
Over 1,800 protesters were arrested at the convention, which began in late August 2004. Because the city was unequipped to handle the huge spike in arrests, it used a former bus station as a holding pen and it acquired the nickname “Guantanamo on the Hudson” for its squalid conditions. Detainees reported that the conditions within the facility were filthy, overcrowded, and contaminated with oil and asbestos. Some of those arrested were held for more than two days before they saw a judge. It's illegal to hold suspects for more than 24 hours without seeing a judge in New York City.
The majority of the charges against those who were arrested were quickly dropped and 112 of the over 600 civil rights claims filed in the intervening years have been settled so far, costing the city $2.1 million. That number is expected to increase dramatically, according to the Times:
The agreement would settle all or most remaining lawsuits, and is expected to include payments totaling several million dollars, according to people with knowledge of the cases, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agreement had not yet been made public.
A spokeswoman for the Law Department told the New York Times that the city had spent $16 million in lawyers’ fees and expenses defending cases from the convention. When asked for comment by The Wire, she reiterated that information.
While these settlements resolve the issue from New York City's perspective, questions remain as to why the protesters were arrested in the first place. In 2010, a United States Court of Appeals judge ruled that the NYPD could withhold 1,900 pages of data relating to "the Police Department’s surveillance and tactical strategy in advance of protests at the 2004."
Outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have consistently defended the NYPD’s actions. In 2007, Kelly told WNBC 4 that the Republican National Convention was the City’s “finest hour.” Six years later, the City appears to be quietly backing down. Its “finest hour” has now become a very expensive one.