Occupy Buffalo sues city over raid
A predawn police raid that removed Occupy Buffalo from Niagara Square last year has led to a lawsuit accusing the city of using excessive force during the operation.
The local Occupy organization claims the city violated members’ civil liberties by using bulldozers and heavy equipment to remove the tents, tables, chairs and other personal items at its encampment in front of City Hall.
The group’s suit, filed in Buffalo federal court, is seeking a court-ordered judgment that the city violated people’s rights, as well as $15,000 in damages.
“This isn’t about money," said Daire Brian Irwin, a lawyer for Occupy Buffalo. “We’re totally convinced that this was part of a national coordinated effort to discredit and destroy Occupy.”
Occupy Buffalo, like many Occupy organizations across the country, was formed around the “We are the 99 percent” message and the belief that economic inequality and corporate greed are ruining the country.
The local suit, one of many filed by Occupy groups across the country, is part of a larger campaign designed to prove that Occupy was targeted for elimination.
One of those suits, filed by Occupy Wall Street, resulted in a $230,000 settlement by New York City.
At the time of the Buffalo raid, Mayor Byron W. Brown said it was never the city’s intention to allow Occupy Buffalo to remain in the square indefinitely. He also noted that the group had rejected the city’s final offer to extend its permit allowing its participants to stay.
The raid, which took place in the early-morning hours of Feb. 2, followed 4½ months of good relations between the two sides.
“We were eminently reasonable and fair in our negotiations," said Timothy A. Ball, the city’s corporation counsel, “and we think we acted appropriately in taking action after that to ensure the square was beautified and made available to the public that spring.”
Occupy’s suit against the city claims the group was still in negotiations over the permit and that the city never gave it an opportunity to move out before the raid took place.
“At that point in time, we had an agreement with the City of Buffalo that had not been violated,” said John Washington, a member of the group who was there the morning of the raid. “I think the raid was excessive, and I think it was intended to make this bigger than it really was."
The group claims the raid was an “unreasonable seizure” that had a “chilling effect” on its members’ right to free speech. It also accused the city of violating people’s property rights.
In a related suit, Occupy Buffalo is seeking records from the FBI and recently asked a federal judge to order the release of any documents on when and how the agency monitored the organization.
“Why were they investigating these kids who were simply exercising their constitutional rights?” said Michael Kuzma, a lawyer for the organization. “I think the public has a right to know.”
The suit stems in part from the government’s acknowledgement that other federal agencies kept an eye on the group’s activities.
The Coast Guard, for example, monitored public websites for Occupy Buffalo’s planned activities but, in the end, found only low or negligible threats to local ports and waterways.