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City of Pittsburgh settles G-20 case involving mass arrest

By staff |
February 18, 2013
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Pittsburgh, PA - The city of Pittsburgh agreed Feb. 14 to pay $400,000 to settle the claims of 13 people who were swept up in a mass arrest of demonstrators, observers and passersby in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, hours after the 2009 G-20 Summit ended. The city previously paid $88,000 to settle the claims of 11 of the 25 original plaintiffs, bringing the total paid to settle the case to $488,000.

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

The lawsuit stemmed from the actions of police during the last day of the G-20 Summit on Sept. 25, 2009. That evening, Pittsburgh deployed hundreds of police officers to Schenley Plaza, a public park in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh campus, after learning of plans for a demonstration in the plaza to protest the police's use of arrests, tear gas and rubber bullets in Oakland the night before. Without justification, the police ordered people assembled on the plaza to disperse and then funneled them onto the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning, where police surrounded about 100 people and then arrested them for failure to disperse and for disorderly conduct. Others were arrested for failure to disperse even though they were blocks away from the plaza.

The ACLU-PA filed suit on behalf of 25 people arrested that night, including 14 students from the University of Pittsburgh and nearby Carnegie Mellon University, claiming that the police violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful arrest.

“I hope that this settlement will at the very least show authorities across the U.S. that they cannot violate the First Amendment rights of their citizens,” said Plaintiff Galen Armstrong, who traveled to Pittsburgh from Chicago to participate in G-20 demonstrations.

Plaintiff Melissa Hill traveled to Pittsburgh from Minneapolis to document the G-20 demonstrations for Twin Cities Indymedia. She was arrested on the lawn of the Cathedral of Learning after being trapped by police lines. Her video camera, which was confiscated by police during her arrest, was later returned to her, broken and without the memory card.

"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. “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.”