City on the Spot in RNC Hearings
Issue #
66

The National Lawyers Guild is eagerly preparing for a March 28 contempt hearing that will be the first courtroom exploration of the city’s justification for holding hundreds of people in detention as long as 40 hours after their arrests during last summer’s Republican National Convention (RNC).

The city flouted two court orders during the RNC to expedite the release of detainees and was eventually cited by Judge John Cataldo for contempt of court. Now it must justify why it could not process arrestees in the normal way during that week, considering that the courts were fully-staffed in expectation of a large number of arrests. Attorney Norman Siegel maintains that the NYPD had a policy of preventive detention, and intended to keep protesters off the streets until Bush finished his acceptance speech.

The Guild has obtained documents the NYPD used to assert that the 24-hour rule didn’t apply during the RNC. Deputy Chief John Colgan told the City Council in advance that because the RNC was a “national security event,” the NYPD would not be giving out desk appearance tickets. Out of a total of 1,781 arrests, 77 percent of the cases to date have either been dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal. Twenty people were charged with felonies. To date, there have been no felony convictions.

The NYPD also must account for why it took people to Pier 57, a toxic former bus depot on Manhattan’s west side, while the Brooklyn and Queens Houses of Detention were open and waiting.

Judge Cataldo has approved the Guild’s subpoenas of Martin Horn of the NYC Department of Corrections and Michael Donegan of the State Department of Corrections, who may testify against each other. The City has blamed the State for taking as much as five hours to return fingerprints, but the State maintains it processed 94 percent of prints in one hour or less.

Guild Attorney Gideon Oliver said the City was acting in contempt of court because all of the processes the NYPD had in place during the RNC were designed to elicit personal information (fingerprinting, rap sheets and filing multiple accusations) rather than to move people quickly through the arrest process. Fingerprinting is not generally required for offenses as minor as disorderly conduct or parading without a permit.

The Hudson River Park Trust, which owns and operates the bus depot, has complained openly that they were not “fully informed of NYPD’s true operational plans for the facility.”

Meanwhile, the NYPD has stonewalled other attempts to learn in advance of the hearing what internal decisions were taken by the City and why. On Dec. 10, a state oversight body condemned the NYPD’s refusal to release documents requested by the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project.

All of which means the contempt hearings will be fast-paced and exciting, as the public has its first chance to hold the NYPD accountable for its protest-policing tactics during the RNC. Come early if you want to grab a seat.

The hearing will begin on March 28 in Judge Cataldo’s court at 9:30 a.m. at 100 Centre Street, Part 83 on the 13th floor, and will continue through the week. The People’s Lawyer is a project of the National Lawyers Guild (nlg.org).