By Samuel Maull, The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) - The New York Civil Liberties Union said Thursday it had filed two federal lawsuits alleging that hundreds of people were illegally arrested during the Republican National Convention.
The lawsuits, filed in Manhattan's U.S. District Court, name the city and New York Police Department as defendants. They accuse police of illegal mass arrests, illegally lengthy and unexplained detentions in filthy conditions - notably in a large room at Pier 57 - and illegal fingerprinting of people charged with minor offenses.
The NYCLU's executive director, Donna Lieberman, said the purpose of the lawsuits is to challenge the indiscriminate mass arrests of people, to get the court to bar such actions and to win damages for people whose rights were violated.
"To protect the right to protest in New York City," Lieberman said, "we must right these wrongs."
The lawsuits arise from two mass arrests on Aug. 31, one near the World Trade Center site and the other near Union Square. Four people arrested near ground zero are plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, Lieberman said.
On Wednesday, the Manhattan district attorney's office asked the court to drop charges against 227 anti-war protesters who were arrested near ground zero. They were among more than 1,800 people arrested during the four-day convention.
Lieberman said she applauded District Attorney Robert Morgenthau for "doing the right thing" after the NYCLU had sent his office a videotape of those arrests. But police have refused to concede any illegal arrests were made, she said.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said that while most of the demonstrations during the convention were peaceful some people broke the law and are now complaining about the consequences.
"The NYCLU continues to distort the facts," Kelly said in a statement late Thursday. "Its characterization of conditions at Pier 57 is false, and it lied when it said today that the NYPD used arrests `as an excuse to fingerprint activists."'
One woman who described being caught in a mass arrest was Hacer Dinler, 29, a personal fitness and dance instructor from Istanbul, Turkey. She said she was trying to cross 16th Street on her way to teach a dance class when she was trapped by police.
"I tried to explain that I am going to teach a class," Dinler said. "They wouldn't let me go. I couldn't go to the bathroom. I started crying. One policeman told me, `It's going to be OK. You're just going to be arrested."'
Dinler said that after about two hours, she fainted, went into convulsions and was taken by ambulance to a hospital. She said she has no health insurance and has received hospital bills totaling $3,000.