MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A federal appeals court Friday said police acted reasonably as it upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by 32 people who say their constitutional rights were violated when they were arrested during a protest outside the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
Their lawsuit named the city of St. Paul and six police officers. The plaintiffs alleged that police violated their rights to free speech and to be free from unreasonable seizure. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson dismissed the case in 2010.
On Friday, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled against the plaintiffs. A three-judge panel concluded that police acted reasonably in response to unlawful conduct when they detained around 400 people in a park off Shepard Road near downtown St. Paul during a protest on the opening day of the convention, releasing most of them shortly afterward but booking about 160.
Some of the 32 defendants were protesters. Others said they were legal observers, medics, media and innocent bystanders who got caught up in the sweep when police herded protesters into the park. Seven were among those who were soon released, while 25 were taken into custody. All were released within 72 hours and all charges against them were eventually dismissed, the appeals court noted.
The panel said the outnumbered officers faced a “precarious situation” when they were confronted by dozens of protesters at Shepard Road and Jackson Street the afternoon of Sept. 1, 2008.
The ruling said video footage showed that many of the protesters wore gas masks and other facial coverings, and several could be heard shouting profanities and taunting the police. Then part of the group, shielding itself behind two large signs, advanced on officers in an apparent but unsuccessful attempt to break through the police line to get into downtown St. Paul, which had been sealed off because of disturbances earlier in the day. The ruling said some protesters also blocked Shepard Road, which had been designated for use by emergency vehicles and first lady Laura Bush’s motorcade.
So it was reasonable, the ruling said, for the officers to fire stinger balls and use chemical irritant spray to push the crowd back to a park about a half mile to the west, where police attempted to sort out who had been among the protesters at the intersection. It said the mass arrests at the park were also reasonable under the circumstances.
An attorney for the plaintiffs, David Shulman, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.
More than 800 people were arrested during the four-day convention. The vast majority had their cases dismissed or were never charged.
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