City to pay $1 million to settle lawsuit over WTO arrests
A federal jury ruled earlier this year that the city was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, and the city agreed to seal its records of those arrests.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The city of Seattle will pay $1 million to World Trade Organization protesters who were arrested in Westlake Park seven years ago and will clear their records, in a settlement announced Monday.
The money will pay for plaintiffs' legal fees, with the rest divided among up to about 175 protesters, who will get at least $3,000 each, depending on how many file claims, said their attorney Mike Withey.
"We think the cash settlement does send a message that what Seattle did was wrong and we shouldn't have been denied our constitutional rights," said Ken Hankin, a Boeing engineer and one of the protesters arrested in Westlake Park during the second day of the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle.
Withey said Monday's announcement "closes a chapter in Seattle history" because it likely ends the last of the legal cases arising from protests and arrests involving the WTO meeting.
The settlement is subject to the approval of U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, Withey said. Pechman will decide how much of the settlement, up to a maximum of $450,000, will go for the protesters' legal fees.
A federal-court jury ruled in January that the city was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their constitutional rights. But the jury determined the arrests did not violate the protesters' free-speech rights because they were not made as a result of a city policy to quash the protesters' anti-WTO viewpoints.
In a prepared statement, City Attorney Tom Carr said he thinks the city would have won if it had appealed the jury's ruling about unlawful arrests. But Carr said the city's insurance company decided to settle the case rather than pay for an appeal.
The $1 million will come from the city's insurer, not taxpayers, he said.
"The city is pleased that the last of the WTO cases is resolved, and we believe the settlement is extremely reasonable," Carr said.
City Council President Nick Licata predicted the settlement will end up costing taxpayers through higher insurance rates for the city.
The city already has paid $800,000 to settle multiple claims involving police misconduct during the WTO protests.
In the settlement announced Monday, the city also agreed to seal its records of the arrests and request that other law-enforcement agencies erase any records they have of the Dec. 1, 1999, arrests.
Hankin said the sealing of arrest records is important to him and other protesters. "It could show up in so many things. If I was applying for a job it could be potentially pulled up," he said.
As part of the settlement, Seattle police officers will receive training on why the department lacked probable cause for mass arrests, Withey added.
Ted Buck, a lawyer for the city in the case, said the settlement calls for the police department to provide recruits and officers with Pechman's ruling that documentation for the arrests was inadequate.
Buck said the lesson learned from the case is not that police need to respond differently to such protesters but that they need to better document such large-scale arrests.
"Under the strain of the WTO riots, the city simply could not properly document these arrests, but will certainly plan to do so in the future," he said.
Staff reporter Natalie Singer contributed to this report.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or email@example.com