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Thwarted Protesters File Rights Suit Against Police

Courts: Lawyers say officers acted recklessly in arresting two women as they tried to hang a banner from a high-rise.


The first protesters arrested in connection with the upcoming Democratic National Convention announced their own zero-tolerance policy Friday, alleging in a suit that the Los Angeles Police Department had trampled on their rights.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court by civil rights lawyers representing Colette Mercier, Genevieve Raymond and Shannon Service, who were arrested on Monday while hanging a protest banner resembling the American flag on the side of a high-rise building facing Staples Center.

They allege that police recklessly endangered the lives of two of the women by, without warning, cutting ropes that held the banner while the women were still trying to hang it. The women were suspended with climbing gear on the side of the building, which houses the Hotel Figueroa. One of them had disengaged herself from one of the ropes that was cut only seconds before, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that police singled out the women for harsh treatment because of the political nature of their acts, and violated their constitutional rights against self-incrimination by questioning them despite their protestations that they did not want to talk without an attorney present.

The suit accuses Police Chief Bernard C. Parks of organizing an effort to intimidate other would-be protesters and to discourage them from exercising their free-speech rights.

Los Angeles police spokesmen followed their customary policy of refusing to comment on lawsuits against the department and its personnel, but a deputy city attorney denied that there was any attempt to intimidate dissidents.

Police have repeatedly warned demonstrators that lawbreaking will not be tolerated and, at a news conference to announce the filing of the suit, civil rights lawyers returned the verbal fire.

"We can't allow what happened in Philadelphia to happen here," said Jim Lafferty, president of the National Lawyers Guild.

Lafferty was referring to crackdowns on protesters at the Republic National Convention. Philadelphia authorities conducted a preemptive raid on a warehouse where demonstrators were organizing.

In Los Angeles, a coalition of 60 civil rights lawyers plans to represent demonstrators at no cost, and 200 observers will monitor police conduct, said lawyer Robert M. Myers.

The lawsuit filed by the climbers asserts that police singled them out for harsh treatment by attempting to turn a minor trespassing case into a criminal conspiracy--a serious crime.

Police typically release people accused of misdemeanors such as trespassing within hours, as long as they identify themselves, have no outstanding warrants and promise to appear voluntarily in court. Alternatively, police can hold them until they post $1,000 bail.

But in this case a police lieutenant, whom the climbers speculate was acting at the direction of superiors, decided to hold them overnight while seeking felony charges, which called for bail of $20,000 each.

Over the protestations of the women, police detectives questioned them the next day about their associates and would not allow lawyers who objected to the questioning to see or consult with them, the lawsuit says.

The suit, filed by lawyers Barbara Enloe Hadsell and Virginia Keeny, alleges that the police were trying to uncover information that could help them support conspiracy charges.

The women were released after posting $20,000 bail each. But the Los Angeles County district attorney's office declined to file felony conspiracy charges and referred the matter to the city attorney's office, which filed misdemeanor conspiracy charges.

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