Updated at 12:32 p.m.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle issued a final order on Monday approving a $250,000 settlement between city officials and a group of individuals arrested after the January 2005 inauguration of former President George W. Bush.
Under the settlement agreement (PDF), which was granted preliminary approval in late March, the 56 class members who elected to join will split $160,000 evenly, and $50,000 will go to the plaintiff's legal team from Gaffney & Schember. Attorneys from the ACLU and Kirkland & Ellis worked on the case pro bono.
The five class representatives will each receive an additional $1,000, and two class members who brought assault claims will receive an additional $15,000 and $20,000, respectively. The class members will also have their arrest records expunged.
As part of the settlement, both sides agreed to a statement about the night in question. The plaintiffs acknowledged that “officials and officers of the Metropolitan Police Department were justified in taking actions to stop the destruction of property and potential threat of injury to innocent bystanders.”
The city, in turn, acknowledged that “while it believes the group as a whole engaged in unlawful conduct, the District cannot link any individual Class Member to any specific acts of property destruction or any similar illegal acts.”
The case stems from arrests made the night of Jan. 20, 2005 in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, where demonstrators opposed to Bush’s re-election had taken to the streets. According to the complaint (PDF), the march was broken up when police arrived – the protesters did not have a permit, and some marchers were engaging in vandalism – and more than 70 participants and bystanders were arrested.
Several class members claimed they were assaulted by police, including one man who said police sprayed him directly in the face with pepper spray. The class also questioned whether the police had the right to make arrests without first asking the crowd to disperse, and also whether parading without a permit was an offense that warranted arrest.
Huvelle granted the class summary judgment in 2008, but the city appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The appellate judges sent the case back for further review.
ACLU Legal Director Arthur Spitzer said that in addition to the settlement money, he was especially glad that the settlement included the expunging of records, since most of the plaintiffs are young adults.
"We thought it was also significant that the District of Columbia agreed that while they felt criminal activities had been committed, they were not able to connect any particular person with any particular unlawful activity," Spitzer said.
Ariel Waldman, senior counsel to the city attorney general, said his office is pleased with the settlement and the acknowledgment that police "were justified in making the arrests to stop the vandalism and destruction of property that were occurring as part of the rioting."
"The District settled to avoid the unnecessary burdens and expense associated with litigating a matter that occurred back in early 2005 and should be put behind all of us, as it now can be," he said.
Kirkland & Ellis attorney Tyler Mace said the attorneys involved were pleased to get a high rate of participation from class members in the settlement.
"We’re happy for the class, we believe this puts the entire episode behind them," he said.
Gaffney & Schember attorneys Susan Dunham and Daniel Schember could not immediately be reached this morning.