PITTSBURGH - The city of Pittsburgh has agreed to pay more than $200,000 to settle two cases stemming from the actions of the city during the September 2009 G-20 Summit, including $72,000 to Karen Piper, a bystander who suffered permanent hearing loss after Pittsburgh police deployed a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) on a neighborhood street.
"The city of Pittsburgh must understand that violating the free speech rights of individuals comes at a price," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Hopefully, the city will show greater respect for peoples' right to peaceful protest in the future."
The LRAD, which emits harmful, pain-inducing sounds over long distances, was developed for use by the military and was used against US civilians for the first time in Pittsburgh. Piper, who at the time was a visiting professor at CMU and was a bystander at the event, suffered permanent hearing damage after police used the LRAD in an apparent attempt to disperse protestors on September 24, 2009.
"I am grateful that my case will serve as a deterrent to future users of the LRAD," said Piper. "The LRAD should have no place on our American streets."
In addition to paying monetary damages, the city is developing a policy governing LRAD deployment to ensure its careful and controlled use.
"It was an international honor and proud moment for Pittsburgh to host the G-20," said Michael Louik, one of the attorneys representing Karen Piper. "Unfortunately, Ms. Piper, a visiting professor, fell victim to careless police activity that detracted from Pittsburgh's reputation as a most livable city."
In another case arising out of the G-20 Summit, the city agreed to pay $143,000 to settle the claims of Seeds of Peace Collective and Three Rivers Climate Convergence, two climate and environmental justice organizations whose efforts to organize and support demonstrations during the G-20 Summit were completely frustrated by police harassment.
That case, which was originally filed two days before the Summit officially began, alleged that city of Pittsburgh officials deliberately adopted a strategy to harass, intimidate, discourage, and ultimately prevent Three Rivers Climate Convergence and the Seeds of Peace Collective from exercising their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and assembly during the International Coal Conference and the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh during the week of September 20, 2009.
"Many Pittsburghers will remember the saga of the red Seeds of Peace school bus that was mercilessly hounded by police all over the city just because they wanted to cook healthy food for the demonstrators," said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "We're glad the city is making amends for their rude and inhospitable treatment of these well-meaning souls."
With these two cases settled, only one case challenging the city of Pittsburgh's actions during the G-20 Summit remains. That case was filed by the ACLU on behalf of 25 people who were swept up in a mass arrest of demonstrators, observers, and passersby in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh hours after the G-20 Summit ended on September 25, 2009.
The city agreed to pay $88,000 to settle the claims of 11 of the plaintiffs in that case. The claims of the 13 plaintiffs who rejected the settlement offer are pending in US District Court in Pittsburgh.
The ACLU-PA filed four cases against the city of Pittsburgh based on its handling of events leading up to and during the 2009 G-20 Summit. The first case was filed before the Summit began on behalf of groups seeking to hold peaceful demonstrations in downtown Pittsburgh. A federal judge ordered the city to allow the groups to use Point State Park for their events prior to the Summit but refused the groups' request to camp overnight in city parks. The judge later ordered the city to pay the groups' attorneys $96,242.57 in fees and costs.
Seeds of Peace and Three Rivers Climate Convergence were represented by ACLU-PA cooperating attorneys Glen Downey and Michael Healey of Healey & Hornack, P.C., and Jon Pushinsky; Jules Lobel, University of Pittsburgh Law School Professor and Vice President of Center for Constitutional Rights; and Walczak, Sara Rose, and Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Piper was represented by ACLU-PA cooperating attorneys Louik of Rosen, Louik & Perry, P.C., Thomas Hollander and Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.