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False Police Statements Tainted RNC Prosecutions

Police officials made false statements in Criminal Court complaints used to prosecute hundreds of people arrested during the Republican National Convention, the New York Civil Liberties Union charged today in a letter to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

The NYCLU called for proceedings — disciplinary and, if appropriate, criminal — against the officials who made false statements, and it asked that the District Attorney’s Office review hundreds of cases to determine whether they must now be dismissed.

The mass arrests in question, near Union Square and the World Trade Center, were the largest of several mass arrests during the RNC. Both took place on August 31, 2004. Near Union Square nearly 400 people were arrested; near the World Trade Center 227 were arrested.

The commander who ordered the arrests near Union Square stated in Criminal Court documents that people there had been arrested only after he and others had given orders to disperse and had warned people they would be arrested if they did not disperse. In a deposition taken by the NYCLU two weeks ago, however, the commander admitted that no order to disperse had been given and that people had not been warned they would be arrested if they did not disperse.

Police officers also signed Criminal Court documents stating they had made the World Trade Center arrests only after they observed defendants engage in specified unlawful conduct. In NYCLU depositions taken last summer, however, the officers admitted they had never even seen the defendants until long after they had been arrested. (All of the World Trade Center arrests have already been dismissed based on a videotape provided by the NYCLU.)

“We are shocked to learn of these false statements,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “False police statements subject individuals to wrongful prosecutions that can have dire consequences and undermine the fundamental integrity of the criminal justice system.”

In light of these revelations, the NYCLU believes that many or all prosecutions arising from these mass arrests may be tainted by false statements. In its letter the NYCLU called for a review of all Criminal Court documents to determine the extent to which they are tainted; discipline of officers who made false statements, and criminal prosecutions where appropriate; and a review by the D.A.’s office of all Union Square cases to determine whether they should be dismissed.

“The NYPD has insisted steadfastly that its conduct during the Convention was exemplary and that every one of the approximately 1,800 people arrested had engaged in unlawful conduct,” said NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn. “We have challenged this from the outset, but these revelations make clear that the Department itself may have engaged in the most serious of misconduct.”

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