New York city has reportedly agreed to pay two Occupy Wall Street protesters $52,000 for their arrest in 2013 after flipping off two New York City police officers on a Queens subway train. The arrests of Nicholas Thommen, 21, and Channing Creage, 26, clearly violated the first amendment and lacked probable cause of any crime. The question is not the settlement but, again, the absence of any indication of discipline of these officers for knowingly violating the constitutional rights of citizens.
Few people are sympathetic with these two men who also allegedly shouted that all police are “f—— rapists.” However, they were arrested for disorderly conduct for insulting police, which is well established as not a basis for such a charge.
My concern is that officers can knowingly arrest people on invalid grounds just to punish them — forcing them to go to jail, be charged, and secure lawyers. It can easily cost thousands of dollars and even cost people their jobs. Yet, when these stories of settlements come out, there is rarely any mention of the firing or disciplining of the officers involved. The City simply said that the settlement was in the best interest of the city. What is in the best interest of the city is some level of deterrent for officers conducting clearly invalid arrests that violate free speech rights of citizens.
I find what these men allegedly said to be deeply offensive. While I have both sued and defended law enforcement officers, I have never lost a deep sense of appreciation for what they do every day for all of us. However, the use of police powers to punish critics or chill free speech is something that no free society can tolerate.
What do you think?