New York City has agreed to pay six Occupy Wall Street protestors between $52,500 and $60,000 each, totaling $332,500 in a settlement over being illegally pepper sprayed by police in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. The incident happened in the early days of the original September, 2011 anti-inequality protest, when police Deputy Inspector, Anthony Bologna, was caught on video deploying the pepper spray into a cluster of marching people, mostly women. One of the plaintiffs, Kaylee Dedrick, is seen crumpling on the ground, as Dedrick’s lawyer, Ron Kuby says, after being sprayed “without the slightest provocation.” Mark Taylor, attorney for three of the plaintiffs, Damien Crisp, Kelly Hanlin and Julie Lawler, called the agreement, “an amount that reflects that the city is aware that its actions were entirely improper.” Aymen Aboushi, the attorney for the two other plaintiffs, Chelsea Elliot and Jeanne Mansfield, credited the importance of the video evidence, saying “When you have neutral video that’s exposing an unconstitutional practice, I think it really goes a long way in getting people’s attention, including getting the city’s attention and making them come to the table to discontinue this sort of practice.”
Although the NYPD has declined to comment on the settlement, New York’s Law Department spokesman, Nicholas Paolucci, said that “Settling was in the city’s best interest.” The police union had argued that Bologna was acting out of concern for safety and was trying to protect others around the marchers. Bologna was not charged with a crime, but he was docked 10 vacation days and transferred from Manhattan to Staten Island after the video was published online. Bologna’s lawyer, Louis La Pietra, was party to the agreement alongside the plaintiffs’ lawyers as well as city officials. La Pietra concurred with Paolucci that, “Settling these cases was in the best interests of Inspector Bologna and the NYPD.” According to the agreement, Crisp, Hanlin, and Lawler will each receive $52,500, while Dedrick will receive $55,000, and Elliot and Mansfield will each receive $60,000. Dedrick also met her future husband and father of her two year-old child, Robert Grodt, after he came to her aid following the incident.
The settlement accompanies several prior agreements, including a $45,000 settlement awarded in May to another young woman, Rheannone Ball, who also claimed abuse by Bologna, alleging that the officer grabbed her from behind and threw her to the ground during the first day of the protest. The next day’s issue of the New York Daily News featured a photo of Ball’s arrest accompanied by a screaming headline. Both the photo and the aforementioned video were essential in galvanizing public support for the Occupy Wall Street movement. In addition to Ball, the city reached a $583,000 agreement with 14 protestors who were arrested on New Year’s Day, 2012, as well as the owner of a book collection destroyed when police cleared Zuccotti Park in November, 2011, reaching a $230,000 agreement from the city and the park’s private owner. The city also agreed to a $50,000 settlement for a man who was arrested while filming an Occupy Wall Street demonstration. A federal appeals court, however, dismissed a lawsuit earlier this year involving the arrests of over 700 protestors who were marching on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1st, 2011. Several additional lawsuits remain pending, including those involving pepper spray incidents like in the most recent settlement.
New York Post – Josh Saul