Monday, December 14, 2009

Civil Rights Groups Sue City Of Pittsburgh Over Harassment And Intimidation Of Activists During The G-20 Summit

The ACLU-PA, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit this past week over the repeated attempts by city officials to suppress the free speech rights of demonstrators attempting to protest the policies of the G-20 Summit. The complaint alleges that the police engaged in a deliberate campaign of harassment and intimidation that prevented two climate and environmental-justice organizations (the Seeds of Peace Collective and the Three Rivers Climate Convergence) from organizing and supporting demonstrations. This lawsuit is the first of what will likely be several cases filed against the City of Pittsburgh and other law enforcement agencies for their interference with and harassment of demonstrators during the G-20 Summit and International Coal Conference.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 14, 2009
Contact: Witold “Vic” Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania, (412) 681-7736

PITTSBURGH - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Center for Constitutional Rights announced today they have filed papers to expand and continue a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Pittsburgh, city officials and police officers for their repeated harassment and intimidation of two climate and environmental-justice organizations whose efforts to organize and support demonstrations during September’s G-20 Summit were completely frustrated.

“The First Amendment does not allow the government to use possible vandalism by a few to justify suppressing the free-speech rights of many, but that’s exactly what Pittsburgh officials did during the G-20,” said Witold Walczak, the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s Legal Director and one of the groups’ lawyers. “Pittsburgh city officials must be held accountable for systematically and deliberately suppressing non-violent climate and environment-justice demonstrations.”

An amended complaint in the lawsuit, which was originally filed September 21, was filed late Friday night in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The suit alleges that City of Pittsburgh officials deliberately adopted a strategy to harass, intimidate, discourage and ultimately prevent Three Rivers Climate Convergence and the Seeds of Peace Collective from exercising their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and assembly during the International Coal Conference and the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh during the week of September 20, 2009.

This lawsuit is the first of what is expected to be several cases filed against the City of Pittsburgh and other law enforcement agencies for their interference with and harassment of demonstrators during the G-20 Summit and International Coal Conference.

The suit names as defendants Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Director of Public Safety Michael Huss, Chief of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Nathan Harper and Assistant Chief William Bochter, Assistant Director of Pittsburgh City Parks Michael Radley, and as-yet-unidentified police officers who will be named later. It alleges the defendants repeatedly violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

“City officials must be held accountable for their blatantly unconstitutional actions during the G-20 in order to help ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” said University of Pittsburgh Law School Professor Jules Lobel, Vice President of Center for Constitutional Rights and one of the attorneys representing the groups.

In addition to the delay and denial of G-20 protest permits that led to September lawsuits in federal court, the suit details an extensive and well-coordinated effort led by the City of Pittsburgh to surveil, harass, intimidate and prevent the Seeds of Peace food bus and Three Rivers Climate Convergence from holding their climate and environmental-justice activities, including the repeated detainment of the Seeds of Peace bus by dozens of armed police officers and the late night confiscation of Three Rivers sustainability fair tents and materials from their permitted location in Schenley Park which effectively ended their ability to demonstrate.

“Rather than seek to strike the difficult but necessary balance in such a high profile event between safety concerns and free speech, the City of Pittsburgh choose instead to use an overwhelming amount of resources and personnel to unconstitutionally harass and stifle dissent, including this group of peaceful activists whose sole mission was to support other activists by providing healthy home-cooked meals during their stay in Pittsburgh,” said Glen Downey of Healey & Hornack, P.C., another of the groups’ attorneys.

The lawsuit filed on Friday seeks the declaration that Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence’s constitutional rights were violated as well as other compensatory and punitive damages.

Seeds of Peace is a Montana-based, non-profit-cooperative that has attended demonstrations and supported various communities and groups working on the front lines of social change by providing them food, water, and planning assistance. Their vegetable oil and solar powered bus intended to model sustainable practices and support Three Rivers Climate Convergence and other activists in the form of food, water and planning during the International Coal Conference and G-20 Summit.

Three Rivers Climate Convergence is a partnership of Pittsburgh-area groups and individuals, working other regional and national organizations to create meaningful action on climate change, advocate for environmental justice and demonstrate truly sustainable living. The group planned an international convergence of activists and educators to create an educational and participatory climate camp and to mobilize around the Pittsburgh G-20 Summit and the International Coal Conference.

The case is Seeds of Peace Collective, et al. v. City of Pittsburgh, et al. Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence are represented by Walczak and Sara Rose of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Lobel; Downey and Michael Healey of Healey & Hornack, P.C.; and Jon Pushinsky. A copy of the amended complaint can be found at: http://aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/g20protestorsharassedbypol.htm

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