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Down Payment: Despite $88,000 settlement, city still faces lawsuits from G-20 arrestees

Lawsuits stem from 2009 arrests on or near Pitt's Cathedral of Learning


Pitt student Kyle Kramer, who was forced to pose with Chicago police officers following his arrest at the G-20, was one of 11 people to settle his civil lawsuit against the city.
  • Pitt student Kyle Kramer, who was forced to pose with Chicago police officers following his arrest at the G-20, was one of 11 people to settle his civil lawsuit against the city.

The City of Pittsburgh has awarded a total of  $88,000 to 11 people arrested during the G-20 in exchange for dropping their claims of false arrest and excessive force.

But that doesn't end the city's legal woes. The ACLU lawsuit that those 11 were part of, stemming from mass arrests during the 2009 international summit, will go forward  — with some of its toughest cases remaining.

While more than half of those who took the $8,000-per-person settlement were University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University students, only a third of the 14 plaintiffs who are still suing the city were Oakland college students in 2009. And while the majority of those who settled claimed not to have been there to protest (only three say they were in Pittsburgh that week expressly for the G-20), six of those still suing say they came specifically to demonstrate against the G-20's economic policies.

The arrest of Kyle Kramer, the Pitt student forced to kneel in front of Chicago police for what seemed to be a trophy photo, is the only well-known case among those who settled. 

Melissa Hill, who did not take the settlement, was arrested while videotaping the crowd and police as a member of Minneapolis's Twin Cities Indymedia. Her camera was broken and footage taken but never returned. 

"I just remember that night being very traumatic," Hill says today. "I feel that my rights were violated that evening in multiple ways."

City Solicitor Dan Regan termed the settlements "the most reasonable manner to resolve these cases. Defending these cases comes at a cost. This was a way to limit those costs," he said, noting that the city did not admit to any liability. Regan would not comment on the future of the case.

All 25 people who originally sued the city were arrested on or near Pitt's Cathedral of Learning on the night of Sept. 25, 2009, after taking part in, observing or merely coming within blocks of a demonstration on Schenley Plaza meant to protest the previous day's arrests. Most of those arrested maintain that they were responding to a dispersal order when they were corralled by police, or were merely watching the spectacle or trying to get past it. Police have maintained that those arrested did not move far enough after the dispersal order.

Testimony from some of the criminal cases involving several of the civil suit's remaining plaintiffs show that police couldn't even identify many of the arrested, and witnessed few alleged criminal actions. 

For example, concerning the arrest of Pitt student Maureen Smith, who is still suing the city, detective Robert Shaw testified, "I didn't see her do anything disorderly ... [another officer] said to me, ‘That's your arrest' and that's how I met her." She was convicted and fined $300.

"I chose not to settle because I feel the settlement was a sneaky, desperate effort to just sweep their embarrassing mistakes and blunders under the rug and pretend that no one was harmed by their thoughtless, overbearing actions," says plaintiff Jordan Romanus, who was acquitted in 2009.

Also still suing are: Emily Harper and Max Kantar, from Michigan, who were arrested more than five blocks from Schenley Plaza, and later acquitted; CMU student Casey Brander, who had her charges dismissed after the judge discovered she had called 911 just prior to her arrest; and Jason Munley, who paid a $350 fine for obstructing a highway, and sued because he was hit with multiple pepper balls by police while he rode a foot-propelled scooter within sight of their lines.

"We really need to get some accountability," says Pete Shell, one of the organizers of the arrest-free 8,000-person anti-G-20 march earlier on Sept. 25. Shell, who was arrested in Oakland and later acquitted, remains part of the lawsuit. "If we can hold the people accountable for what happened, maybe we can prevent it from happening again.

"Our Constitution and our democracy were nowhere to be found that night in Oakland."

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