A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on June 9 ruled that New York City can withhold documents related to the arrest of 1,800 protesters during the 2004 Republican National Convention. The appeals court held that the lower court had abused its discretion in ordering the release of the documents. The city alleged that the documents were not discoverable due to law enforcement privilege.
The appeals court held that the procedures prescribed by the lower court for releasing the documents would not ensure their confidentiality, and that their release would compromise future surveillance efforts. In overturning the decision of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge José Cabrenas wrote:
The City has met its burden of showing that the law enforcement privilege applies to the [documents] because the[y], even as redacted by the District Court, contain detailed information about the NYPD’s undercover “law enforcement techniques and procedures.” Plaintiffs do not have a “compelling need” for the [documents] because the Reports do not contradict, undermine, or otherwise cast doubt upon the…documents upon which the City will rely in defending its arrest and fingerprinting procedures. Because plaintiffs do not have a “compelling need,” they have not overcome the “strong presumption” against lifting the law enforcement privilege.
Attorneys for the protesters will not appeal the ruling but will allow the suits seeking damages for unlawful arrest to go to trial in the lower court.
In October 2004, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuits that will now go to trial, claiming that hundreds were illegally arrested and detained during protests at the Republican National Convention in August of that year. In April 2005, New York City agreed to pay $150 each plus legal fees totaling about $215,000 to 108 of the protesters. Lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild filed a class action suit against New York city officials in November 2004 saying the officials violated the constitutional rights of protesters by orchestrating mass arrests and detentions during the Republican National Convention. More than 1,800 people were arrested during the four-day convention held in New York City. The suits allege that in addition to wrongly arresting many people, New York police held those arrested longer than allowed and fingerprinted many who were only accused of minor crimes. In October 2004, the Manhattan district attorney dismissed charges against 227 protesters accused of blocking traffic near the World Trade Center site.
From Jurist, June 10. Used with permission.