Three years ago, a small group of Occupy Wall Street protesters stood in Zuccotti Park shortly after midnight and watched the NYPD handcuff eight demonstrators for no apparent reason. None of the arresting officers would tell us why the protesters were being singled out, but that night NYPD Inspector Salvatore DiPace, Jr. put it this way: "There's a law against everything. That's America."
DiPace, who is now Deputy Chief for the Counterterrorism Bureau, is among the four NYPD officers named in a federal lawsuit filed against the City by one of the protesters who was arrested that night in February of 2012.
According to his arresting officer, Libor Koznar was "shouting on a NYC public street," and making "unreasonable noise," and therefore needed to be physically detained.
You can see Koznar's arrest at the 1:44 mark in the video below, after he shouts "Anthony! Anthony!" at one of the other protesters who's being taken away. Officer Rosado, who declined to give us his first name that night, immediately points to Koznar and says, "Take him."
According to the lawsuit, Koznar was held for six hours, and the charges against him were dropped for insufficient evidence. The complaint alleges that the supervising NYPD officers on the scene, DiPace and Deputy Chief James McNamara, failed to stop the wrongful arrests (indeed, McNamara appeared to be directing them) and as a result, Koznar was "unlawfully deprived of his rights to express himself and to assemble, his liberty rights, and was otherwise damaged and injured."
Koznar's attorney, Gideon Oliver, said that the NYPD's behavior partly reflected the arbitrary rules that Brookfield Properties created for the public park that they were legally required to keep open 24 hours a day.
"Those rules appear to have been subject to almost constant change at the whim of Brookfield and the police," Oliver says. "Libor's arrest never should have been ordered, he never should have been issued a summons, someone should have realized it was a bad arrest and cut him loose."
A spokesman for the Law Department said that the City would review the complaint.
Koznar is asking for an unspecified amount of damages. The City has paid out roughly half a billion dollars in NYPD-related settlements over the last five years. Last spring, the City paid $583,024 to settle a case in which a group of Occupy protesters claimed they were wrongfully arrested on January 1, 2012.
"When the police do things like this it has a clear chilling effect," Oliver says. "The effect, if not the purpose, of discouraging people from safely observing police activities in public spaces, which is constitutionally protected conduct."
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