Thursday, May 24, 2012


Occupy Wall Street legal action to recover confiscated property could be model for Honolulu (de)Occupy

by Larry Geller

In an action that may have applicability also in Hawaii, Occupy Wall Street filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the City of New York seeking redress for the confiscation and destruction of books in “the People’s Library”. The books were confiscated and most destroyed or damaged by New York City police and other city employees during a raid on the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park.

The suit names the City of New York, its mayor, Michael Bloomberg, in his official capacity, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, in his official
capacity, the Sanitation Commissioner, and other unidentified officials, employees and/or agents of the City of New York in their official and individual capacities. It is the latest of several lawsuits filed against the city related to its actions against OWS.

From the lawsuit (snip):

This is a declaratory judgment and civil rights action to vindicate Plaintiffs' rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Constitution and laws of the State of New York. Plaintiffs were deprived of their federal and state constitutional and New York State common law rights when police officers of the New York Police Department ("NYPD") and employees of the New York City Department of Sanitation ("DSNY") (together "City Departments"), acting pursuant to a policy and on the authority of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and under the direction of Commissioners Raymond Kelly and John Doherty, conducted a surprise night time raid of Zuccotti Park, a.k.a. "Liberty Park" (the "Park").

As part of the raid, the City Departments seized and retained possession of personal property belonging to OWS, including at least approximately 3,600 books from OWS's People's Library ("People's Library" or the "Library"), as well as various Library furnishings, computers, and other electronic equipment ("Library furnishings and equipment"). Only 1,003 of the at least approximately 3,600 books that were seized were recovered; moreover, of the recovered books, 201 were so damaged while in the possession of the City of New York that they were made unusable. Thus, at least approximately 2,798 books were never returned or were damaged and made unusable Almost all of the Library furnishings and equipment that were seized by Defendants were not returned or returned in an unusable condition. To this day, OWS has not been told by the City of New York what happened to the missing books and Library furnishings and equipment. Upon information and belief, the missing books were destroyed as part of the raid. Upon information and belief, the raid was authorized by Mayor Bloomberg and executed by John Doe and Richard Roe and others presently unknown to Plaintiffs ("John Doe and Richard Roe et al.") in their capacity as officials, employees and /or agents of the City Departments, except for the conduct related to Plaintiffs' request for punitive damages as more particularly set forth below.

Defendants' seizure of OWS's Library books and Library furnishings and equipment constitutes an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. These actions were taken pursuant to a policy, and the decision to take such actions was made by high ranking officials of the City of New York.

Defendants' destruction and failure to return or return in a usable condition OWS's seized Library books and Library furnishings and equipment constitutes an unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. These actions were taken pursuant to a policy, and the decision to take such actions was made by high ranking officials of the City of New York.

Honolulu’s Occupy movement is tiny, in comparison to the massive Occupy New York assembly, but has experienced a series of raids and confiscation of property. The raids are enumerated and documented The Doug Note. Of course, the commercial media have paid no attention to these repeated raids.

In a peremptory raid before scheduled May Day demonstrations, police confiscated expressive material that would have been displayed on May Day:

The banner was taken by the City and County of Honolulu during a raid on the (de)Occupy Honolulu encampment this morning.  It was not tagged, and therefore illegally seized, in violation of the City’s ordinance 11-029 (formerly Bill 54), and also in violation of the 1st and 4th amendments of the Hawaii State Constitution, and Kānāwai Māmalahoe itself.  Another banner was also seized, which read “Ua Mau Ke Ea o ka ʻAina I Ka Pono”.  Ironically, this phrase, which is now used as the State motto, was first uttered at Thomas Square by Kamehameha III.

[The Doug Note, Hawaiian Cultural Practitioner Laulani Teale calls for return of banner, 4/30/2012]

Kānāwai Māmalahoe is a unique section of the Hawaii State Constitution. More from the same article:

Yesterday, internationally-renowned mural artist Raul Gonzalez painted a beautiful banner in order to help the Hawaiian people to celebrate Kānāwai Māmalahoe, the Law of the Splintered Paddle, which was declared by Kamehameha I in order to protect the people of Hawaiʻi from governmental abuse, and enshrined in the Hawaii State Constitution.

Honolulu Occupiers may have grounds for a challenge similar to the one filed today by OWS. The difficulty, of course, is the need to obtain legal advice and representation.

OWS Complaint

The copy of the complaint below should be treated as an unofficial copy—it may contain OCR or other errors. Do not rely on this copy. An official copy should be available shortly from the electronic filing system of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

Download 12-CV-4129 OWS vs. City of New York OCR


Mahalo for the suggestion. I just heard about the action on NPR. And you are absolutely correct about the main difficulty: obtaining legal advice and representation. I've been able to witness flagrantly illegal acts by the City and HPD at the (de)Occupy encampment and especially at the Victoria street houseless encampment where the politically unorganized houseless can do nothing but endure repeated attacks to deprive them not only of their shelter, but of their clothes and food. Although the City is supposed to tag items and return 24 hours later to determine if they have been "stored" on public property in violation of the ordinance (Bill 54 which became 11-029), they have found a loophole. They separate the houseless from their possessions during the raid and declare the items "trash" which allows them to immediately trash suitcases full of neatly folded clothing, and coolers of food. Oh, and yes, children's coloring books and stuffed animal toys. The War on the Poor is the most enraging thing you can easily witness at street level.

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