Pitt students sue city for G-20 arrests with ACLU help

By Staff Report

Eleven current and former Pitt students filed a lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh and 17… Eleven current and former Pitt students filed a lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh and 17 city police officers Tuesday morning, saying their First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated when they were arrested in connection to last year’s G-20 Summit.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court with 14 other people also represented by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says police denied the students their right to peacefully demonstrate and that officers used “excessive force” while arresting them.

The outcome of the lawsuit might influence G-20 cases that are still in court, but will likely have little effect on the dozens of Pitt students whose G-20 court cases have already been closed, said David Harris, a Pitt law professor and ACLU board member.

Police arrested 188 people in the days surrounding the Summit. At the time, Pitt police Chief Tim Delaney estimated that about a quarter of them were Pitt students.

The students and other plaintiffs listed on yesterday’s lawsuit asked the U.S. District Court of Western Pennsylvania to grant them money and declare that their rights were violated.

They also asked the court to declare the state failure to disperse statute unconstitutional, saying it is “vague and overbroad.”

The current statute allows police to order a crowd to disperse if three people in that crowd are charged with disorderly conduct. The ACLU said in the suit, “There was not fighting, boisterous drunkenness, vandalism, or disorderly conduct, and prior to issuing the order to disperse, police had arrested no one.”

The lawsuit says that police violated protestors’ rights because they “funneled everyone onto the lawn of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning. Police then surrounded the approximately 100 people trapped on the Lawn, refused to allow them to leave, ordered them to lie on the ground and placed them in handcuffs.”

It also says that some officers made “sexually suggestive comments” to some female arrestees and refused to allow one man to take his diabetes medication, until a nurse at the correctional institution gave him some.

City Solicitor Dan Regan confirmed that the city of Pittsburgh received a copy of the suit Tuesday morning. He said the law department is currently reviewing the lawsuit, but could not comment further. Regan did not know when further comment would be available. City police referred questions to Regan’s department, and a spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl did not respond to requests for comment.

Among the Pitt-affiliated plaintiffs is Jordan Romanus, who was a senior studying philosophy and political science at the time of the Summit.

“I just want the city to admit that their logic in bringing such a chaotic event to the city was faulty,” Romanus said in an interview.

Romanus had charges of disorderly conduct and failure to disperse withdrawn and was found not guilty of hazardous disorderly conduct/physical offense.

All of the plaintiffs involved had their G-20-related charges either withdrawn or dismissed, or they were found not guilty.

Sara Rose, an attorney for the ACLU, said this suit has been in the works for months. Many of the plaintiffs contacted the ACLU soon after their arrests, and the ACLU sent out volunteers to collect information from people who claimed to be subjected to police misconduct, she said.

It wasn’t until this summer that Rose was able to process the information. When she did, she asked those involved if they wanted to be a part of the lawsuit.

If the suit is successful, a jury will decide how much money each plaintiff will receive, she said.

It is unclear how the suit could affect police conduct. In order for plaintiffs to file an injunctive relief — which would order the defendants to cease a specific behavior — the plaintiffs have to show that they’re going to be a victim again, Rose said. That would be hard to prove in this case, given that the G-20 Summit was a one-time event, she said.