NEW YORK (AP) — Four lawmakers sued the city Monday over its handling of the Occupy Wall Street protests, saying police conduct is so problematic that the force needs an outside monitor.
The city and police violated demonstrators' free speech rights, used excessive force, arrested protesters on dubious charges and interfered with journalists' and council members' efforts to observe what was going on, the four City Council members and others say in the federal civil rights suit.
"This unlawful conduct has been undertaken with the intention of obstructing, chilling, deterring and retaliating against (the) plaintiffs for engaging in constitutionally protected protest activity," says the suit, which was filed a day before Occupy and labor activists planned a large May Day march.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended police handling of the protests.
"This police department knows how to control crowds without excessive force. . They do allow you to protest, but they don't let it get out of hand," he said after some council members complained about what they called police brutality at a March Occupy demonstration.
While Occupy activists have gone to court before over particular episodes in the movement's contentious history with the city, the new lawsuit is a nearly 150-page compendium of complaints, amplified by the council members' participation. A local Democratic Party official, freelance journalists and Occupy activists also are plaintiffs.
Their criticisms range from a police official's much-discussed use of pepper spray on penned-in protesters in September to the temporary removal of demonstrators from Manhattan's Union Square in March.
City council members and other elected officials have sued the city before — over a Bloomberg-led 2009 change to term limits, among other things.
Still, the council members' involvement in the Occupy suit helps dramatize its argument that police oversight is so ineffective it warrants a court-appointed monitor. The officials want an independent eye to review all of the more than 2,000 Occupy-related arrests and to explore the sometime closures of Zuccotti Park and some other public spaces.