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Politics & Government

Pittsburgh Settles G20 Suit for $400,000

On behalf of 13 litigants, the ACLU has reached a $400,000 settlement with the city of Pittsburgh for claims related to arrests made during the 2009 Pittsburgh G20 summit. 

The 13 individuals, categorized by the ACLU as “demonstrators, observers, and passersby” were among about 100 people taken into custody after police broke up a rally at Schenley Plaza in Oakland few hours after the summit of world leaders concluded. 

Criminal charges against all of the plaintiffs had previously been dropped or litigated to a not guilty verdict.  “What we were trying to do is help our clients get some vindication for what they had been through that night and also to send a message that when police funnel people and arrest them as part of a mass arrest without individual probable cause that they did anything wrong, we’re not going to tolerate that,” said ACLU lawyer Sara Rose.

The suit originally included 25 clients.  Eleven of them reached an $88,000 settlement with the city in the early stages of the suit, one decided to withdraw from the suit and the others chose to move on to discovery.

“We did over 50 depositions of city police officers to try to figure out what happened that night and also to gather the facts necessary to bring this case to trial if we had to do that,” said Rose.

The city made the second offer after the completion of discovery and the plaintiffs accepted.

The exact distribution of the $400,000 has not been disclosed.  The ACLU will retain a portion of the money.  The rest will be given to the plaintiffs but not in equal amounts.

“Because some people were kept in jail for six hours and some people were kept in jail for 18 hours and not only held in SCI Pittsburgh (where all G20 arrestees were first processed) but were also taken to Allegheny County Jail,” said Rose.

This is the final resolution of the fourth and final suit filed by the ACLU related to the Pittsburgh G20 Summit.  Pittsburgh agreed to settle two other cases last year.  The other case was argued before the G20 Summit on behalf of groups seeking demonstration permits.  A judge decided that case. 

“I hope that this settlement will at the very least show authorities across the United States that they cannot violate the First Amendment rights of their citizens,” said Plaintiff Galen Armstrong, who traveled to Pittsburgh from Chicago to participate in G-20 demonstrations. “When the right to assemble and the freedom to speak are trampled on, as they were in Pittsburgh, our democracy is in trouble.” 

Pittsburgh paid a total of $800,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees as a result of the four cases.  The money all comes from an insurance policy purchased by the city before the summit.