Federal complaint charges NYPD making indiscriminate mass arrests on behalf of Wall Street banks...
By Ernest A. Canning on 11/30/2011, 6:05am PT  

Guest blogged by Ernest A. Canning

The City of New York and the NYPD are engaging in a deliberate campaign of "mass arrests, illegally arresting protesters, including bank customers, and needlessly detaining them for excessively long periods...in order to facilitate and promote the CITY OF NEW YORK's desired reputation as corporate friendly and pro-bank."

So says a federal complaint filed by a woman and her fiancée who allege that they were inappropriately detained by New York City police last month inside a branch of Citibank in downtown Manhattan. [Video of the extraordinary arrest is posted at the end of this article.]

The civil rights suit, Carpenter vs. City of New York, has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Heather Carpenter, a 23 year old student and direct care counselor for the mentally disabled, and her fiancé, Julio Jimenez-Artunga.

The complaint arises out of an Oct. 15 mass arrest at a Greenwich Village branch of Citibank during which Carpenter closed her account, quietly exited the bank and even offered a receipt to prove she was a customer, only to be physically accosted by the NYPD, dragged back inside the bank, arrested and charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest. According to the complaint, the DA subsequently has said that the charges would be dismissed for lack of evidence...

Substantive allegations

The complaint alleges that on Oct. 15, "Occupy Wall Street activists assembled in Washington Square Park with a plan to peacefully protest against the predatory lending practices and excessive fees of big banks by marching to local branches of Citibank and Chase and closing their accounts." Heather, who took part in the assembly, had received a letter from Citibank about a month earlier, which informed her she would be charged a "monthly maintenance fee unless she maintained a minimum balance of $6,000."

Carpenter, accompanied by her fiancé, joined protesters in marching to the Greenwich Village branch of Citibank.

"Upon entering the bank," the complaint alleges, "some of the protesters participated in a teach-in, announcing the amount of their debt, discussing their student loan experiences, and reciting sobering statistics related to the debt of college graduates."

As the teach-in was in progress, Carpenter "approached a Citibank teller" seeking to close her accounts. "Julio heard a bank representative request that the protestors take their protest outside...Julio exited the bank and waited [outside for Carpenter]."

As she was completing her transaction, "police officers began barricading the doors of the bank," the complaint continues. As seen on the video below, and as written in the complaint, "Heather informed the officers that she was a customer, showed them the receipt and she was permitted to leave." Other protesters who were seeking to comply with the request that they take their demonstration outside were imprisoned inside the bank when police locked the doors. NYPD's Chief of Department, Joseph Esposito, then ordered officers to arrest everyone inside the bank and charge them with criminal trespass, according to the suit.

Outside the bank, Carpenter is seen being accosted by an undercover officer identified in the suit only as DOE 1. He said she would have to come inside with him because she had been "inside with everyone else." When she protested that she was a bank customer and pulled out a receipt to prove it, DOE 1 "grabbed her from behind. Cupping the bottom of her breasts with two hands, DOE 1 lifted Heather off the ground and began carrying her toward the bank entrance," reads the complaint.

When her fiancée Jimenez-Artunga raised both hands in the air, motioning "why?", two officers grabbed him and dragged him inside the vestibule of the bank as well, where he was surrounded by 7 officers pulling him "in conflicting directions."

"One," the complaint charges, "kicked Julio in the back of the knee...DOE 3 responded to Julio's cry of pain by grasping his left arm, pulling behind Julio's back, and forcefully lifted it upward into a hyper-extended position...In severe pain, Julio screamed once more, but DOE 3 pulled harder."

Meanwhile, Carpenter was "shoved face-first into the corner" of the front of the bank doors "and swarmed by other officers" who pressed her face against the glass. Both Carpenter and Jimenez-Artunga were then arrested, charged with criminal trespass and resisting arrest. They were kept in police custody for 30 and 32 hours respectively before appearing in court and being released on their own recognizance.

The complaint alleges that, on Nov. 14, the New York County DA announced he intended "to dismiss the charges...on the grounds the People* could not carry its burden of proof."

*How Orwellian! An oligarchic plutocracy that carries out lawless assaults upon and indiscriminate arrests of its citizens claims to be acting as "the People."

Complaint seeks damages, but what about an injunction?

The federal complaint seeks damages for false arrest and excess force that caused "serious physical and emotional pain" in violation of the couple's rights under the 4th & 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, but the federal statute under which the complaint was filed, 42 USC 1983, permits a suit in equity against every "person who, under color of [law, deprives another person] of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution."

While the couple appear to have a solid claim for damages, the broader context is the allegation that a city, with a Mayor who is among the "0.01 percent" (Michael Bloomberg, personal net worth: $19.5 billion), is deliberately violating the constitutional rights of its citizens in order to advance the privileges of the giant Wall Street banks who had been the driving force behind the 2008 financial meltdown. If that allegation is true, then this couple, or others subjected to the city's storm trooper tactics, should seriously consider seeking injunctive relief, which is available under Section 1983.

Peace officers vs. Wall Street mercenaries

The second video (below), recorded on Oct. 7, provides a textbook example of how police can and should handle a peaceful disagreement between a bank manager and a protester/customer. (Watch and learn, NYPD).

In that case, protesters entered the Santa Cruz, CA branch of Bank of America. They were told by the bank's manager that they had to leave. When one woman complained that she was a customer seeking to close her account, the bank manager responded: "You can't be a protester and a customer at the same time" --- a silly remark since a customer's decision to withdraw all funds and close an account is, of itself, a form of protest.

The manager locked the door and told them they would "be arrested."

The manager was wrong.

When the police arrived they were polite to all. "I'm a peace officer," one officer said. "Not a cop." No arrests were made for the obvious reason that no laws were broken.

There's no valid reason why the NYPD could not have handled the Greenwich Village Citibank incident in the same fashion. Instead of rushing to trap protesters inside the bank, they could have simply declared the gathering inside the bank an unlawful assembly and directed them to leave. No arrests would have been necessary unless they refused to leave.

That would be how peace officers handle a crowd. But, time and again, in cities and on campuses, citizens have been confronted not by peace officers seeking to protect and serve, but by unprovoked violence and repression meted out by heavily armored storm troopers who act as mercenaries for a criminal oligarchy masquerading as a democracy.

* * *

Video of Heather Carpenter's arrest at the Greenwich Village branch of Citibank on 10/15/11...

Video depicting Santa Cruz PD as a model of decorum at similar "Move Your Money" incident, this one at Bank of America on 10/7/11 (the video is mis-dated as 2012)...

* * *

Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.