Drop Charges for OWS Protesters Arrested on Brooklyn Bridge, Lawyers Say

By Ben Fractenberg on November 11, 2011 3:55pm | Updated on November 11, 2011 4:53pm

MANHATTAN — A civil rights group sent a letter to Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance asking him to drop charges against 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters who were arrested during a march over the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1.

The letter, written by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, and dated Nov. 10, said there was no probable cause to arrest the protesters and that they were escorted to the bridge by police before being suddenly detained.

"The entrapment/trap-and-arrest Brooklyn Bridge mass protest sweep was unlawful and unconstitutional in its entirety," the letter states. "The police may not truncate peaceful First Amendment-protected activity, surround a group, issue no audible orders, prohibit persons from having an avenue of exit, and then arrest the hundreds of persons caught in the trap."

The protesters were arrested during the march after some demonstrators strayed off a pedestrian walkway and started to walk on the roadway.

Protesters said police allowed them on the roadway and then corralled and arrested them.

“We are writing District Attorney Cyrus Vance requesting that his office undertake an appropriate review and dismiss these charges. Those who were illegally swept off the streets should not be subjected to the further injustice of prosecution” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Executive Director of the PCJF in a statement.

Police used a bullhorn to warn protesters they faced arrest after being allowed on the roadway, but Verheyden-Hilliard said that it was an insufficient warning.

"That bullhorn order is inaudible not only to hundreds of people subject to orders given through it, but to people just a few feet from the bullhorn," she said.

Even if the order was audible, she added, police need to give protesters the opportunity to comply, which they didn't have since they were trapped from behind by police and had nowhere to exit.

Nearly all of the protesters who were arrested were given desk appearance tickets or summonses for disorderly or blocking traffic. The status of their cases was not immediately clear.

PCJF also filed a class action lawsuit against the city on Oct. 4 seeking an injunction against the so-called "trap-and-arrest" tactic.  The case is ongoing.

The organization previously brought litigation challenging a 2004 ban on protesting in Central Park's Great Lawn.

The DA's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

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