Pittsburgh and plaintiffs arrested during '09 G-20 Summit settle for $400k, brings suits to a close

By Jon Campisi | Feb 15, 2013

The City of Pittsburgh has agreed to settle the remaining claims in a handful of civil rights suits that arose out of the mass arrest of demonstrators and others during the 2009 Group of 20 Summit that was held in western Pennsylvania.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania announced on Feb. 14 that the city agreed to pay $400,000 to settle the claims of 13 people who claim they were swept up in the mass arrest.

Last year, as previously reported by the Pennsylvania Record, Pittsburgh paid $88,000 to settle the claims of 11 of the original 25 plaintiffs who sued over their arrests.

The latest agreement settles the claims of the remaining 13 individuals.

“This settlement marks an end to the lawsuits filed by people arrested or harassed during the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh,” Reggie Shuford, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s executive director, said in a statement. “We hope that it serves as a lesson to Pittsburgh and other cities about the importance of respecting demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.”

The lawsuits stemmed from police actions during the final day of the G-20 Summit on Sept. 25, 2009, according to the ACLU.

During that evening, hundreds of Pittsburgh police officers were dispatched to Schenley Plaza, which is a public park located within the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, after learning of plans for a mass demonstration to protest against the police department’s use of arrests, tear gas and rubber bullets in the city’s Oakland neighborhood the previous night.

Without justification, the plaintiffs claimed, the officers ordered people congregating at the plaza to disperse and then funneled them onto the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning, where officers surrounded about 100 people and subsequently arrested them for failure to disperse and for disorderly conduct, the lawsuit had alleged.

The ACLU eventually filed suit on behalf of 25 arrestees, including 14 University of Pittsburgh students and other students from nearby Carnegie Mellon University.

The plaintiffs claimed that the police officers violated their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest.

“I hope that this settlement will at the very least show authorities across the United States that they cannot violate the First Amendment rights of their citizens,” plaintiff Galen Armstrong said in a statement released by the ACLU. “When the right to assemble and the freedom to speak are trampled on, as they were in Pittsburgh, our democracy is in trouble.”

Armstrong had traveled to Pittsburgh from Chicago to participate in the G-20 protests.

Another plaintiff, Melissa Hill, who traveled from Minneapolis to participate in the demonstration, had her video camera confiscated by police and, following her arrest, the item was returned to her broken and without the memory card, she claimed in her suit.

“With this settlement, I will now be able to move forward after the traumatic events of that evening that resulted in the destruction of my video camera,” Hill said in a statement. “I hope that this settlement sends the message that there are consequences when a city uses police state tactics that I hope to never witness again.”

Sara Rose, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Pa., said that when cities host meetings of world leaders, they have a duty to accommodate both “demonstrator and diplomat.”

“This settlement reaffirms that obligation and allows the plaintiffs to move on with their lives,” Rose said in a statement.

The latest $400,000 settlement brings to a close the four civil suits that had been lodged against the city.

In all, Pittsburgh paid a total of $800,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees as a result of the four cases, according to the ACLU.

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