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Fallout from RNC lawsuits: $175,000 so far in settlements

  • Article by: RANDY FURST
  • Star Tribune
  • June 2, 2011 - 9:48 PM

Nearly three years after St. Paul hosted the Republican National Convention, the legal fallout from clashes between police and protesters still reverberates.

About $175,000 has been paid out in settlements of lawsuits filed by activists, the latest on Wednesday to Mick Kelly, an antiwar organizer who was shot by police with a nonlethal "marking projectile" while demonstrating on the convention's last day, Sept. 4, 2008.

For protesters, the settlements are proof that a "police state" existed during the convention, while for attorneys defending the cops, the payouts are a piddling amount, underscoring how reasonable police were.

"In the greater scheme of things, there were not all that many claims in the context of all the contacts the police department had," said Jason Hively, an attorney for Chartis, the insurance firm that represented St. Paul. The firm was formerly known as AIG.

Under an agreement with St. Paul, the RNC Host Committee, a group of local business leaders that coordinated activity during the convention, paid AIG $1.1 million for a $10 million insurance policy to cover suits against police.

"Mayor [Chris] Coleman insisted on this insurance policy because he wanted to protect the city long-term," said St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing. "In New York they're still doing cases from 2004," when the GOP Convention met there.

Ted Dooley, an attorney who represented Kelly, obtained settlements in six of seven suits he filed in connection with police behavior during the convention.

"It tells me," he said, "that the police reaction was over the top, and ... that the police pre-emptive action was unwarranted." Dooley estimated the payout in the six cases he and Peter Nickitas handled came to $100,000.

Kelly, 53, was bruised by a projectile with an inklike substance, which police fired at him while he was carrying an antiwar banner. The settlement amount was not disclosed. Hively said settling it was less expensive than taking it to trial.

"There was a video of the incident," he said. "In our opinion, it clearly showed he was moving toward the officer with the banner pole and lunged toward the officers, and the use of force in that case was not only reasonable but justified."

Former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza, an expert witness for Kelly's lawyers, disagrees. "[Kelly] was absolutely in a passive state," Bouza said. "If I thought he was lunging toward the police, I would have testified for the police."

Kelly was arrested but not charged. He said he'll give $5,000 of the settlement to the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, the group defending activists, including himself, who were subpoenaed last September after FBI raids on their homes. They are accused of aiding terrorists, which they deny.

Other resolutions

Also settled this week for $27,000 was a suit filed in connection with a raid by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department and police of a St. Paul "convergence center" from which organizers coordinated RNC protests.

Attorney Albert Goins said authorities seized many boxes of "First Amendment-protected literature, not because it was criminal but because they didn't want it on the street."

The biggest RNC settlement appears to be $50,000 that went to three people caught in a house raid on the 900 block of Iglehart Ave. in St. Paul. The insurance company and federal government each paid $25,000.

Kris Hermes, of Georgia, one of the activists who sued over the raid, called the $50,000 "poetic justice." He said $17,000 would go to attorneys and that most of the remainder would go to the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, an anarchist studies institute "and legal support for legal activists."

A suit filed by Mike Whelan, owner of the Iglehart house, was dismissed. Also dismissed was a class action suit by protesters arrested on Shepard Road. That dismissal was appealed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hively cited two federal RNC suits that are unresolved. One involves Amy Goodman, host of the television/radio program "Democracy Now," and two of her producers, who were arrested. The other involves Mark Tracy, also arrested.

Of about 800 RNC arrests, 679 cases were referred to the city attorney's office for prosecution, Grewing said.

Of that number, 87 were resolved by guilty pleas, a finding of guilty after trial or by a fine paid as part of continuance for dismissal; 12 defendants face warrants for failure to appear in court; two were found not guilty; 56 had their cases dismissed for various reasons, including 40 because of a policy not to charge journalists; and in 522 cases, the city attorney's office either declined to prosecute or dismissed the cases because they could not prove the charge or because of other mitigating factors, Grewing said.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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