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NYC to pay $17.6M in 2004 GOP convention suit

New York City will pay more than $10 million to protesters, journalists and bystanders at the 2004 Republican National Convention who said they were falsely arrested and had their First Amendment rights violated while rallying against the event, lawyers and plaintiffs in the case announced Wednesday.

Pending a federal judge's approval, 1,200 plaintiffs in the class-action suit, as well as 600 people who filed individually, will share $10.3 million. Their attorneys will get $7.6 million.

The agreement was announced at a news conference Wednesday outside City Hall by the New York Civil Liberties Union, lawyers for the plaintiffs and a group of the protesters. Many of those arrested were held for days at an old bus depot at Pier 57, dubbed by some of those jailed as "Guan- tánamo on the Hudson" because of what they described as unsanitary and even toxic conditions.

The U.S. District Court later found that no probable cause existed for many of the arrests during the convention, which was held between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2, 2004, at Madison Square Garden.

At the news conference, Deirdre MacNamara, the primary plaintiff in the suit, said she was a passerby when she was swept up in the protests and arrested in Union Square.

"If this average person can get arrested walking down the street going for a milkshake at Wendy's, which is what I was doing that night, and be held for 50 hours, we should all be a little afraid and really, really sad," MacNamara said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday he was glad the case was settled.

"I have spoken before about my concerns about how that situation was handled at the time," de Blasio said. " . . . and we're going to take a very different view going forward about how we respect people's rights to express themselves."

In a statement Wednesday, officials with the New York City Law Department said they remained steadfast that they did not violate anyone's constitutional rights, adding that they maintain the authority to make mass arrests during demonstrations.

Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the NYCLU, which represented some of the plaintiffs, said the outcome of the settlement is clear. "It's not that the city is a loser," he said. "It's that the First Amendment is the winner. Any lawsuit that results in an $18-million settlement with protesters is a lawsuit that will send a message to every single police department in the country and the NYPD that they cannot do this again."With Matthew Chayes

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