Schiller et al. v. NYC/Dinler et al. v. NYC (Challenging fingerprinting and detention during Republican National Convention)

S.D.N.Y., Index Nos. 04 Civ. 07921, 07922 (direct)

These cases challenge fingerprint and detention practices used by the NYPD during the 2004 Republican National Convention as violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Constitution and as violations of state law.

Between Aug. 26 and Sept. 2, 2004, hundreds of thousands of people protested outside of the Republican National Convention in New York City. During that period, the NYPD deployed mass-arrest policies and practices at demonstrations (including the use of netting to effect arrests) that resulted in the unlawful arrests of bystanders, non-participating observers, and law-abiding demonstrators. The arrestees were then detained, without justification, by the NYPD for prolonged periods (sometimes for more than 36 hours) in unhealthy and perhaps dangerous conditions. Furthermore, the NYPD systematically fingerprinted all the arrestees and forwarded those fingerprints to law enforcement agencies for improper entry into government databases.

On Oct. 7, 2004, the NYCLU filed two complaints on behalf of several arrestees. The plaintiffs’ experiences are representative of the treatment received by the group of over 200 individuals who were arrested near the World Trade Center on Aug. 31, 2004, detained at Pier 57, and processed at 100 Centre Street. The NYCLU claims that the NYPD’s policies and practices during the demonstrations violated the plaintiffs’ rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as under the New York State Constitution and the common law of New York. The NYCLU claims that any records or fingerprints stemming from the arrests should be either expunged or returned to the plaintiffs. Further, the plaintiffs seek to have these actions by the NYPD declared unlawful so that they are not deployed at future demonstrations.

The city has since agreed to expunge or destroy the fingerprints from all participants arrested for minor offenses, and has also stated that neither New York State nor the FBI has retained such fingerprints.

On May 4, 2007, the plaintiffs filed a motion to remove the confidentiality designations from the intelligence documents. On April 15, 2008, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan rejected the NYPD's request to submit under seal an affidavit from its deputy commissioner for intelligence.

On Aug. 14, 2008, Federal Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV ordered the city to turn over hundreds of intelligence documents related to the NYPD’s treatment of protestors at the RNC. Judge Francis rejected claims that disclosure of the documents would compromise law enforcement concerns. The ruling affirms an August 2007 decision rejecting attempts to conceal the intelligence documents.

On Dec. 14, 2008, Judge Sullivan ordered the NYPD to produce 2,000 of documents concerning its undercover infiltration of protest groups at the RNC. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the lower court's decision on June 9, 2010, ruling that releasing the documents could compromise future surveillance operations.

On Oct. 1, 2012, Judge Sullivan declared unlawful the Aug. 31, 2004 mass arrest of more than 200 peaceful protesters near Church and Fulton streets in Lower Manhattan. He also rejected the city’s claim that it had lawfully arrested another nearly 400 people near Union Square, concluding that the plaintiffs were entitled to a trial about that location. Additionally, Judge Sullivan ruled that the NYPD’s mass fingerprinting of people arrested during the RNC protests violated a state law.

NYCLU attorneys involved in these cases include Christopher Dunn, Arthur Eisenberg, Donna Lieberman, and law students in the NYU Civil Rights Clinic.