Members of what became known as Occupy Philadelphia, an offshoot of the
Occupy Wall Street anti-corporate movement of two years ago, have filed a federal lawsuit against members of the Philadelphia police department alleging their civil rights were violated in connection with their demonstrations in front of City Hall.
The plaintiffs, 26 Philadelphia residents, take issue with the Nov. 30, 2011, forced removal of protesters who had been camped out on Dilworth Plaza.
Three days earlier, Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued an order evicting the Occupy Philly protesters from the municipal space in front of City Hall because the city was preparing to perform renovations of the outdoor space, according to previous news reports.
The city subsequently deployed a number of police officers and other public safety officials to serve as a “blockade” of Dilworth Plaza, trapping anyone in and around that location, the lawsuit states.
The blockade, the lawsuit claims, was designed to forcibly remove or “evict” all of the Occupy Philly demonstrators who had been protesting at the public space for the previous seven weeks.
“This plan included the physical destruction of the encampment, and all personal property contained therein, as well as the arrest of demonstrators,” the complaint reads.
Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, James Savage and T.J. Ghose, who had been standing with other protesters at the corner of 15th and Market Streets, “expressing their First Amendment rights,” were “thwarted in their protest by the police as they were unlawfully arrested by Defendant Officers,” the suit states.
The arrests, the plaintiffs claim, were done without probable cause or legal justification, and they violated the individuals’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
As a result of the ordeal, the plaintiffs claim they suffered physical pain, potentially permanent physical injury, loss of liberty, anxiety, fear, mental harm and financial losses.
According to the suit, after police entered Dilworth Plaza, a group of protesters began marching throughout downtown Philadelphia.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they were soon trapped by another police blockade.
Earlier that evening, the complaint alleges, high-raking police officials, including Commissioner Ramsey and others, made the decision to arrest the protesters based on the anticipated march that followed the removal of the demonstrators from Dilworth Plaza.
“The decision to arrest the marchers, including the named Plaintiffs, was not based on the commission of any crime, but rather on their continued peaceful expression of First Amendment rights,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit maintains that throughout the duration of the Occupy Philadelphia encampment in front of City Hall, any protest marches that were undertaken by protesters were done so peacefully.
On Nov. 30 of that year, at about 4:45 in the morning, Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, who is named as a co-defendant in the suit, ordered the protest march be terminated, the lawsuit says.
It was at this point that Capt. William Fisher, head of the Civil Affairs Unit, and another co-defendant in the litigation, ordered the marchers, including the named plaintiffs, onto the sidewalk on the east side of the street, saying that anyone not complying would be arrested.
The plaintiffs were then corralled against the wall of a building and unable to move, the suit states.
Marches on the west side of the street, however, were not corralled by police, “but rather dispersed by force and intimidation,” the complaint alleges.
The officers, acting on orders from Ramsey, Bethel, Fisher and other unnamed defendants, then began falsely arresting the plaintiffs, the lawsuit states.
The arrestees were subsequently charged with failure to disperse, obstructing the highway and criminal conspiracy.
Each of the plaintiffs were arrested, processed and held in police custody for 24 hours before they were released on bail, the suit says.
The lawsuit alleges that the actions of the defendants violated the “clearly established federal constitutional rights of Plaintiffs to freedom from retaliation against protected speech and assembly, freedom from the use of excessive, unreasonable, and unjustified force against their person, the right to be free from false arrest and malicious prosecution, and the right to due process of law.”
In addition to Ramsey, Bethel and Fisher, the other police officers named as defendants in the case are Joseph Sposato, Darryl Crawford, Rhonda C. Smith, Darrell Sampson, Angel Ortiz, and Joseph Sisca.
There are also 50 John and Jane Doe police officers named in the suit, as well as the City of Philadelphia.
The defendants are accused of retaliation against protected speech and assembly, excessive force, battery, assault, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment, unjustified search, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
There is also a Monell claim lodged against the City of Philadelphia.
The plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, interest, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other legal relief.
They are being represented by Philadelphia attorneys Paul J. Hetznecker, Lawrence S. Krasner and Lloyd Long, III.
The federal case number is 2:13-cv-06606-BMS.