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NYCLU to sue

Challenging past police tactics

November 19, 2003

The New York Civil Liberties Union is planning to file federal lawsuits challenging past police practices the group believes are to be used at next summer's Republican National Convention.

One of the three suits - which are scheduled to be announced today - charges the Police Department with "unreasonably restricting access to large demonstrations" by using officers and barricades to close streets and sidewalks, by failing to provide advance notice about access, and by failing or refusing to provide information to the public. A related suit involves the prolonged detention of people charged with minor offenses, while the third deals with the use of pens to confine demonstrators and the searching of people forced into them.

One of the people on whose behalf the NYCLU is pressing its claims is an 80-year-old civil rights activist named Jeremiah Gutman who attempted to attend the Feb. 15 demonstration in midtown Manhattan against U.S. military action in Iraq.

Police prevented him from attending the demonstration, then sent horses into a crowd, permanently injuring him as he tried to protect his son, according to the group.

The Police Department was criticized for its crowd control tactics by Federal Judge Charles Haight after it was discovered that detectives from the Intelligence Division used what was referred to as a "demonstration debriefing form" to question detainees about their political beliefs and associations. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said he was unaware of the form and ordered the practice stopped. But in a later ruling, Haight derided his claim of lack of knowledge.

NYCLU associate director Christopher Dunn said the demonstrations at the Republican convention next summer will resemble February's huge anti-war rallies. "Hundreds of thousands of people are coming here. The department is almost certainly going to use same tactics to control those demonstrations," he said.

Deputy police commissioner for public information Michael O'Looney did not return a call seeking comment.

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© 2003 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.