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Michael_D_NapolitanoOn Monday October 1, 2012, a federal court judge in Manhattan ruled that hundreds of arrests that were made by the police department of the City of New York during the 2004 Republican National Convention were made without probable cause and the tactics used were illegal.

A lawsuit was commenced against the City of New York as a result of the actions taken by the police on August 31, 2004, where a group of protesters staged an unpermitted march from the World Trade Center to Madison Square Garden. The protesters made it only a few steps onto Fulton Street where there were warned to disperse and were surrounded by police with netting. Within seconds, 226 arrests were made on charges related to blocking the sidewalk.

The City attorneys argued in court that the officers had “group probable cause” to make the arrests, claiming the crowd was acting as one. However, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan rejected the City’s argument and ruled the arrests on Fulton Street were illegal. The court held, that based upon undisputed facts and a video that was recorded, there was not even arguable probable cause to make the arrests. The court further stated that an arresting officer must believe that each individual “personally violated the law.” The judge ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not recognize “guilt by association.”

This ruling potentially subjects the City of New York to significant monetary damages for the 226 protesters that were illegally detained and held in a former bus depot that was used by the police. The case also involved violation of the fingerprinting law which requires that fingerprinting in noncriminal violation cases like the convention cases, be used only when the subject can’t produce identification.

Such a ruling clearly shines the spotlight on tactics used by the police department regarding protesters and subjects the City to potentially many more lawsuits and the financial burden of compensating the victims.