New York City has one memento from the 2004 Republican National Convention that seems destined to last: an especially bitter dispute over the city’s methods and motives in detaining hundreds of protesters, well beyond the ordinary legal time limit of 24 hours, without the usual access to lawyers, reports Jim Dwyer in the New York Times. At times, the Police Department kept people in custody for two days or more before issuing them tickets for offenses like disorderly conduct. Led by a vigorous defense from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, city officials say they did their best under a sudden and extraordinary flood of arrests, acknowledging that bystanders may have been swept up. Lawyers for a number of protesters say what the city did amounted to illegal preventive detention, a calculated effort to limit the chances of confrontation and possible embarrassment.
The full dimensions of the dispute may emerge in a contempt-of-court hearing for the city on Sept. 27, and in civil lawsuits that have been filed or are threatened. What is clear now – from interviews, a review of newly released city and state records, and a decision from a previously undisclosed court hearing – is that the city’s new system for speedy processing of mass arrests failed its first major test that week. At least one of the city’s major justifications for delays in releasing protesters is not supported by state records. In addition, the city chose not to abide by a state judge’s direct order to grant lawyers immediate access to their clients. When another judge gave deadlines for the release of certain prisoners who had been held at length, top city officials repeatedly came back to court to report that they could not track the prisoners down in time. There were 1,781 arrests in all.