On December 20th, some of those arrested when Occupy Los Angeles was removed from City Hall lawn on November 30, 2011 gave the city, it’s police chief and mayor an early Christmas gift, a lawsuit. The class action lawsuit for an unspecified amount of damages alleges that the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck engaged in policies and practices that night that violated the civil and constitutional rights of the approximately 300 protesters and bystanders arrested including named plaintiffs Cheryl Aichele, Jonathan Alexander, Carina Clemente, Michael Prysner and James Weitz.
The lawsuit was filed by a team of attorneys including Hoffman, Litt and Carol Sobel who successfully reached a historic $12,850,000 settlement against the LAPD for its use of force during the May 1, 2007 immigrants right march in MacArthur Park. More than just alleging false arrests and violations of the defendants’ first, fourth and 14th amendment rights to assembly and association, the suit gives a brief history of Occupy LA and how the City flipped their long standing policies over use of the lawn surrounding City Hall against the protesters. For example, the lawsuit cites other rallies that have drawn thousands to the public space including a 1990 anti-abortion rally and an anti-Sensenbrenner bill protest that brought out about 750,000.
The suit also points out how from the start of Occupy LA, in October 2011, the relationship between those protesting economic disparities and the city was a generally a cooperative one that included official visits from City Council members including then president and now mayoral wannabe Eric Garcetti. The Los Angeles City Council led by members Rosendahl and Alarcon introduced a formal resolution of support of Occupy LA that was eventually passed. Around October 6th, Mayor Villaraigosa brought tarps to the protest site to protect the occupiers from the rain. The Occupy site had even been visited by County health department and Occupy LA complied with health and sanitary issues. This is in stark contrast to the always antagonistic relationship the City of New York had with Occupy Wall street, held within a private park in downtown New York City.
The suit also argues that the city of LA, before it decided to issue a mass dispersal order that November night, kettling people following the order and arresting people blocks away from the lawn, had no official or even unofficial procedures for allowing or denying people to publically assemble on City Hall’s lawn. The lawn, according to the lawsuit, was not even a public park under the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, therefore not subject to bans on camping.
Six Months after the November mass arrests, during which the lawsuit alleges, Plaintiff Clemente and others were subjected to “pain compliance” techniques by police, including having her nipple and inner thigh pinched to the point of bruising, the city amended the municipal code. City Hall lawn became a park, and therefore subject to the camping ban.
It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit moves forward especially given the potential impact on protests in the city of the los angeles. While the Occupy LA camp is no more, actions under the name of Occupy and offshoots continue, including protests against foreclosures in places like “Fort Hernandez” in Van Nuys. The Los Angeles Police Department, accused of using shock and awe military tactics in the November 2011 eviction will again come under scrutiny for brutality, including denying those arrested and held for over 60 hours use of bathroom facilities. It will also be interesting to see how, if at all this will be an issue in the upcoming mayoral race.