Friday, November 18, 2011

How The City of Kingston Lost $25,000

Protesters who got booted from Kingston park get $25,000 settlement from city (video)

Freeman staff
Published: Wednesday, November 16, 2011

KINGSTON — A group that claimed its constitutional rights were violated when it was kicked out of a Kingston park during a 2008 demonstration has received a $25,000 settlement from the city.

The group, Middle East Crisis Response, sued the city after police evicted members from T.R. Gallo Park during a May 4, 2008, celebration in the park to mark the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

The protesters, totaling about eight people, held up signs protesting policies of the United States and Israel but did not cause an audible disturbance.

The YouTube video below, posted by Middle East Crisis Response on May 5, 2008, shows part of the clash between demonstrators and Kingston police the day before.

Chester-based Attorney Stephen Bergstein, representing Middle East Crisis Response, said the settlement was negotiated just before the case was to go to trial last month in federal court in Albany.

As part of the deal, the group also will get a meeting with newly appointed Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti to discuss ways “to prevent this from happening again,” Bergstein said.

Bergstein said the settlement did not include the city admitting any wrongdoing but that his client still views the settlement as a victory for free speech.

“The bedrock principle of American constitutional law is that public parks and sidewalks are free-speech zones,” Bergstein said in a prepared statement when the suit was filed. “The government cannot pick and choose which advocacy groups may use the areas and which cannot.”

Kingston Mayor James Sottile could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. In 2008, he said he supported the police department’s decision to separate the Middle East Crisis Response protesters from people participating in the Israel celebration. The mayor said police acted in the interest of public safety.