Lawyers for the District of Columbia and the federal government moved yesterday to dismiss, once and for all, a lawsuit filed more than six years ago by an Iowa man arrested inside the U.S. Capitol for what he claims was an act of performance art.
David Olaniyi sued (PDF) the District and federal government in 2005 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging numerous violations of his constitutional rights stemming from the 2003 arrest, his detention and a subsequent stop and search of his van.
Last February, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton dismissed (PDF) all but two of the claims, one against the District and one against the federal government. In separate motions filed yesterday, both moved for summary judgment.
Olaniyi's lawsuit is being handled pro bono by David Williams, Ryan Craig and A. Joseph Jay III of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in Washington.
“Based upon our review of the case, we felt that Mr. Olaniyi’s rights had been violated and we thought he deserved legal representation,” Williams said. He said they are still reviewing the motions for summary judgment, but that, “we believe that the claims that remain in the case are meritorious and that those claims deserve to be tried.”
The U.S. attorney’s office, through spokesman William Miller, declined to comment. A spokesman for the city’s Office of the Attorney General did not immediately return a request for comment this morning.
Olaniyi, according to his complaint, describes himself as “an artist, philosopher, scholar, performer, and director” whose work has been displayed in museums and galleries across the country. He developed a philosophy for his art called “Life is a Performance,” in which he would travel to different places and collect items for use in a stage play.
In March 2003, Olaniyi visited the U.S. Capitol. He was wearing a costume made “out of various materials from the D.C. environment,” according to his complaint, including newspapers, shampoo bottles, empty honey jars and duct tape; he wore the costume “in an effort to study people’s interactions with him.”
After passing several security checks to get inside, he took pictures and danced and sang for tourists. Shortly after, a U.S. Capitol Police officer allegedly approached him and told him to drop a sculpture he was holding. When he refused, the officer allegedly grabbed it and shattered it on the ground.
Olaniyi was then detained and officers tested his costume for wires and explosives; officers later said his costume resembled a belt worn by suicide bombers. He was later transferred to the Mental Health Unit of the D.C. Jail and, he alleges, involuntarily administered antipsychotic drugs.
Police charged him with making a false bomb threat, disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and assault or threatened assault. Later that year, prosecutors dropped all the charges. In January 2004, he went back to Washington to retrieve items allegedly confiscated by the police during his arrest. He claimed that he was stopped by police and had his van searched without probable cause.
He sued the District of Columbia and the federal government in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in March 2005, claiming they had violated his constitutional rights by seizing his property, unlawfully detaining him and preventing him from exercising his right to free speech.
Last February, Walton dismissed almost all of the claims, but left two – one against the District and one against the federal government – intact. The judge found that the federal government was immune against most of the claims, but that Olaniyi did have grounds to sue over the January 2004 encounter. Walton also found Olaniyi had grounds to sue the District over the alleged involuntary injection of medication.
The District and the federal government filed separate motions for summary judgment yesterday. The District argues (PDF) Olaniyi can’t prove he was involuntarily injected with an antipsychotic drug, since his medical records don’t show any evidence of that. Even if he could, the city writes, a single injection isn’t enough to make a due process claim since he couldn’t prove the incident was part of a larger policy or custom.
The federal government, in its motion (PDF) for summary judgment, argues that police had reason to stop Olaniyi’s van when he came back to Washington in January 2004. He had a partially-obscured license plate, which, according to the brief, is a legitimate reason for U.S. Capitol Police to make a stop around the Capitol grounds.