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New York to pay $17.9 million to 2004 Republican Convention protesters

By Haley Draznin, CNN
updated 3:29 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 1,800 protesters were arrested in New York during 2004 Republican National Convention
  • A joint settlement is resolved between the city and protesters after nine years in litigation
  • The average payout per plaintiff is about $6,400

(CNN) -- New York City agreed on Wednesday to pay nearly $18 million to settle the civil rights claims of thousands of people arrested during the 2004 Republican National Convention that nominated George W. Bush for a second presidential term.

New York police engaged in mass arrests of more than 1,800 protesters, bystanders, legal observers and journalists during the event.

Michael Schiller, a documentary maker working for HBO, said he was caught in police netting and arrested while attempting to film protesters from a sidewalk in Lower Manhattan.

"Police rolled out orange nets and I was caught in one of those nets and I ended up spending 28 hours in a temporary jail they created on the West Side Highway in an old bus depot," Schiller said, adding that he was detained in overcrowded and dirty conditions.

"The ground was covered in oil and stuff that comes out of buses," Schiller said, "There wasn't enough seating. Men and women were separated in different pens. Everyone was covered in this filthy black. People had abrasions and lesions from their skin touching the oil."

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the City of New York in October 2004 on behalf of Schiller and others, claiming their constitutional rights had been violated.

Schiller represents one of more than 430 people who brought lawsuits against the city and the police. Another 1,200 were included in a class-action lawsuit.

According to the city law department, New York and the New York City Police Department defended itself against the lawsuits, maintaining that the conduct of the police had been constitutional and that its goal was keep order and prevent the protests from spiraling.

In October 2012, a federal District Court ruled that the Fulton Street mass arrests were unconstitutional and urged for a settlement of the remaining cases. The result was Wednesday's agreement.

Approved by U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan, the settlement includes $10.3 million for all individuals arrested during the RNC, and $7.6 million for attorneys' fees, costs and expenses, according to a press release by the Law Department.

Christopher Dunn, NYCLU associate legal director and Schiller's lawyer, said there is a substantial range of individual settlement rewards.

"They vary depending on how long people were in detention, the conditions they were in, and the outcome of their criminal cases," Dunn said.

Schiller did not comment when asked about his personal settlement.

The average payout per plaintiff is about $6,400, according to a news release by the Law Department.

"The quantity of money that the city has spent on this is outrageous in the sense that this is money that could go to New York City public schools or New York City hospitals that are closing left and right and New York City fire departments," Schiller said.

Schiller produced a documentary, "The After Party," about his case.

"I think that in some ways it really is a victory for democracy and freedom of speech and freedom of the press," Schiller said.

Is free speech on mute during the conventions?

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