Two protesters affiliated with the Occupy D.C. movement are suing the District of Columbia and the Metropolitan Police Department over their arrests at a Feb. 13 protest outside the Merrill Lynch office in downtown Washington.
According to a lawsuit (PDF) filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the protesters accused police of false arrest and of violations of their First Amendment and other constitutional rights. They are suing for punitive and compensatory damages.
The protesters, Samuel Dukore and Kelly Canavan, set up tents outside Merrill Lynch's office as part of a demonstration about wealth disparity in the United States. The tents are part of the symbolic “occupation” of public spaces that has characterized similar movements across the country in recent months.
Dukore and Canvan claimed that while the tents were set up on public sidewalks, they did not block pedestrian access. The protesters dissembled the tents after a police warning, but then re-assembled one and sat inside it soon after.
Police officers arrested Dukore and Canavan under a D.C. municipal regulation that prohibits the establishment of a camp or “any temporary abode.” Dukore and Canavan argued that because they were using the tents as part of their protest and were not using them to camp or sleep, they were not in violation of the law.
“The MPD officers targeted Ms. Canavan and Mr. Dukore for arrest, and urged their prosecution, in retaliation for their exercise of their First Amendment rights,” Dukore and Canavan alleged in their complaint.
Dukore and Canavan are being represented by Washington solo practitioner Jeffrey Light. Light is also representing other Occupy D.C. protesters in litigation over their right to maintain tents on National Park Service property in McPherson Square in downtown Washington.
“The law says you can’t create a temporary abode without permission of the mayor, and these people weren’t doing that,” Light said in a phone interview on Monday.
A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department could not immediately be reached for comment.