Occupy D.C. at McPherson Square in December 2011.
Occupy D.C. officially launched one year ago today, symbolically occupying McPherson Square and other sites in downtown Washington as part of a national grassroots movement. The dozens of tents that once "occupied" the square are gone, but litigation surrounding the demonstrations has lived on.
Washington didn't see the type of mass arrests in the hundreds that took place in New York during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, but more than a dozen criminal and civil cases related to Occupy D.C. are still pending in local and federal courts. In one high-profile case over the seizure of property from the square, a third amended complaint was just filed in late September.
Besides criminal cases brought against protesters, mostly charging that they failed to obey police, a host of civil cases have been filed against the U.S. Park Police and other law enforcement agencies over their treatment of protesters and property in the square.
Washington solo practitioner Jeffrey Light is representing clients in more than a dozen criminal and civil cases that are either still pending or about to be filed. He said that because his clients have all been individual protesters, as opposed to Occupy D.C. as a group, the fact that the square is no longer occupied hasn't posed a problem from a legal perspective, although he added that it's been harder to contact demonstrators since they left.
Light's cases include a much-watched lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and Park Police over the seizure of property from McPherson Square. The details and plaintiffs have changed since the case was first filed in December 2011 – the third amended complaint was filed September 19 – but the claims have mostly stayed the same: that police seized and destroyed tents and other property in the square in violation of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Other plaintiffs with cases still pending include two individuals arrested during an Occupy D.C. protest outside the Merrill Lynch office downtown and two individuals who claim that they weren't in violation of a no-camping law when they "involuntarily" fell asleep while sitting upright in chairs at an "information table."
Park Police and other law enforcement agencies that were sued have yet to file responses in most of the cases, or have filed answers denying any wrongdoing. In the case over the seizure of property, the U.S. attorney's office has maintained that police followed existing regulations and provided clear notice to demonstrators.
McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, another site of demonstrations, were mostly cleared of tents and people by this summer, but Occupy D.C. continued to operate and had called for a reoccupation of sites around the downtown area to mark the one-year anniversary.
National Law Journal photo by Diego M. Radzinschi.