Pittsburgh pays $200,000 to settle claims relating to 2009 G-20 Summit controversy

By Jon Campisi | Nov 21, 2012

The City of Pittsburgh has agreed to settle two cases that stemmed from police actions

during the Group of 20 Summit held in the western Pennsylvania city back in the fall of 2009.

The city will pay a total of $200,000 to settle the claims, which involved a bystander who said she suffered permanent hearing loss after Pittsburgh police deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device on a neighborhood street, and those claims initiated by two climate and environmental advocacy organizations that alleged the public demonstrations they organized and supported during the G-20 Summit that year were hampered by law enforcement harassment.

“The city of Pittsburgh must understand that violating the free speech rights of individuals comes at a price,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which announced the settlements on Nov. 14, said in a statement. “Hopefully, the city will show greater respect for peoples’ right to peaceful protest in the future.”

The settlement includes $72,000, which will be paid to Karen Piper, a visiting professor and bystander at the event, who says she sustained permanent hearing damage after cops used a LRAD in an attempt to disperse protesters on Sept. 24, 2009.

The device, which the ACLU says emits “harmful, pain-inducing sounds over long distances,” was developed for military use; the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh was the first time it was used against U.S. civilians.

“I am grateful that my case will serve as a deterrent to future users of the LRAD,” Piper said in a statement. “The LRAD should have no place on our American streets.”

Michael Louik, one of the lawyers who represented Piper, said in a statement that his client fell victim to “careless police activity that detracted from Pittsburgh’s reputation as a most livable city.”

The other case included in the settlement involved Seeds of Peace Collective and Three Rivers Climate Convergence, two social justice groups who claimed the city “deliberately adopted a strategy to harass, intimidate, discourage, and ultimately prevent” the organizations from exercising their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and assembly during the International Coal Conference and the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh during the week of Sept. 20, 2009.

“Many Pittsburghers will remember the saga of the Seeds of Peace school bus that was mercilessly hounded by police all over the city just because they wanted to cook healthy food for the demonstrators,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of PA, said in a statement. “We’re glad the city is making amends for their rude and inhospitable treatment of these well-meaning souls.”

With the two settlements complete, only one case challenging the city’s police action during the G-20 Summit remains, which was a case filed by the ACLU on behalf of 25 people swept up in a mass arrest of protestors and passersby in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood hours after the summit ended.

The city had agreed to pay $88,000 to settle the claims of 11 of the plaintiffs in that case, according to the ACLU. The claims of the 13 people who rejected the settlement offer are pending in federal court in Pittsburgh.

A judge later ordered the city to pay out $96,242.57 in attorneys’ fees related to the litigation, the ACLU stated.

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