City to Pay $1 Million to Settle Lawsuit Over 1999 WTO Arrests
- City to Pay $1 Million to Settle Lawsuit Over 1999 WTO Arrests
by Bob Young
The city of Seattle will pay $1 million to World Trade Organization
protesters who were arrested in Westlake Park seven years ago and will
clear their records, in a settlement announced Monday.The money will
pay for plaintiffs' legal fees, with the rest divided among up to
about 175 protesters, who will get at least $3,000 each, depending on
how many file claims, said their attorney Mike Withey.
"We think the cash settlement does send a message that what Seattle
did was wrong and we shouldn't have been denied our constitutional
rights," said Ken Hankin, a Boeing engineer and one of the protesters
arrested in Westlake Park during the second day of the 1999 WTO
meeting in Seattle.
Withey said Monday's announcement "closes a chapter in Seattle
history" because it likely ends the last of the legal cases arising
from protests and arrests involving the WTO meeting.
The settlement is subject to the approval of U.S. District Judge
Marsha Pechman, Withey said. Pechman will decide how much of the
settlement, up to a maximum of $450,000, will go for the protesters'
A federal-court jury ruled in January that the city was liable for
arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their
constitutional rights. But the jury determined the arrests did not
violate the protesters' free-speech rights because they were not made
as a result of a city policy to quash the protesters' anti-WTO viewpoints.
In a prepared statement, City Attorney Tom Carr said he thinks the
city would have won if it had appealed the jury's ruling about
unlawful arrests. But Carr said the city's insurance company decided
to settle the case rather than pay for an appeal.
The $1 million will come from the city's insurer, not taxpayers, he said.
"The city is pleased that the last of the WTO cases is resolved, and
we believe the settlement is extremely reasonable," Carr said.
City Council President Nick Licata predicted the settlement will end
up costing taxpayers through higher insurance rates for the city.
The city already has paid $800,000 to settle multiple claims involving
police misconduct during the WTO protests.
In the settlement announced Monday, the city also agreed to seal its
records of the arrests and request that other law-enforcement agencies
erase any records they have of the Dec. 1, 1999, arrests.
Hankin said the sealing of arrest records is important to him and
other protesters. "It could show up in so many things. If I was
applying for a job it could be potentially pulled up," he said.
As part of the settlement, Seattle police officers will receive
training on why the department lacked probable cause for mass arrests,
Ted Buck, a lawyer for the city in the case, said the settlement calls
for the police department to provide recruits and officers with
Pechman's ruling that documentation for the arrests was inadequate.
Buck said the lesson learned from the case is not that police need to
respond differently to such protesters but that they need to better
document such large-scale arrests.
"Under the strain of the WTO riots, the city simply could not properly
document these arrests, but will certainly plan to do so in the
future," he said.
Staff reporter Natalie Singer contributed to this report.
[NOTE: The police arrested my friend for sitting on the sidewalk and
jailed her and many other protesters in a bus for nearly 24 hours,
during which time they were not allowed to use a toilet. Then she was
forced to spend the night in jail and released on bail her parents
paid. Given that these people had not committed any crime, it's good
that the government is admitting they did wrong. Although $1 million
is not a lot of money for so many people they wronged.
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