Occupy L.A. protesters sue city
Protesters in the Occupy Los Angeles movement filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday against the city and high-ranking officials alleging that the group's constitutional rights were violated during its eviction.
The lawsuit alleges that the Los Angeles Police Department used "shock and awe" military tactics on November 2011 to forcibly remove hundreds of demonstrators who were encamped on the south lawn of City Hall. The group alleges that the police raid that resulted in nearly 300 arrests was "unconstitutional and an unlawful violation of plaintiffs' First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to assembly, association, freedom from unlawful seizure and liberty."
Occupy LA was the local branch of a national movement in which demonstrators established tent communities in major cities to protest economic inequality and the bailout of large banks. Initially, city officials not only permitted but welcomed the L.A. protesters, the suit says.
But after 59 days, and no indication that the protest would end, officials grew increasingly concerned. Fearing that children might have been living in the encampment, LAPD Chief Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa decided to shut the camp. Authorities posted signs notifying the group that the lawn fell under the regulations of the city's parks departmement and was subject to closure at night. The group did not move, however, and protesters alleged that it was the city that was violating the law by moving to eject the group, according to the lawsuit.
"The basic rule of the 1st Amendment is that you can't change the rules halfway through the game," said Carol Sobel, an attorney for the protesters. (Sobel has also represented May Day protesters in a prior suit against the city and LAPD.)
On the evening of the City Hall lawn eviction, police officers, some dressed in riot gear, swooped in and arrested those who refused to leave.
"The city began execution of their campaign of shock and awe . . . attacking from all sides with one group of officers bursting out of the doors of City Hall and knocking down anyone in their path," it says.
The lawsuit alleges that the protesters and bystanders were wrongfully arrested. Once in police custody, many were detained for up to seven hours, their wrists in handcuffs, and denied access to water or the bathroom, the lawsuit alleges.
"It's incredible to me that at this point in time that the LAPD was trying to teach people a lesson for engaging in civil disobedience," Sobel said.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and injunctive and declaratory relief.
Chief Deputy City Atty. Bill Carter said he "was not aware that anything was filed and that my office has not been served" with the lawsuit.
-- Angel Jennings
Photo: LAPD officers surround demonstraters as they raid the Occupy Los Angeles encampment. November 30, 2011. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times