ACLU and Amnesty International Settle Lawsuit Stemming From 2003 FTAA Protests

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
July 1, 2009 12:00 am

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MIAMI – The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Amnesty International USA today announced that they have entered into a settlement agreement with Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and individual defendants, effectively ending the lawsuit filed on behalf of Amnesty International by the ACLU in 2006.

Miami-Dade and City of Miami officials acknowledged that during the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests, their use of an overwhelming police force in downtown Miami prohibited the group of Amnesty International members from peacefully protesting. The officials further expressed regret that the police action interfered with Amnesty International’s right to communicate its message to the public.

“The First Amendment is still alive in Miami and we are satisfied that the county and city police have acknowledged that their significant police presence in the area adversely affected Amnesty’s intended demonstration,” said Louis Jepeway Jr., ACLU cooperating counsel. “We must remain ever vigilant for future violations.” Richard Houlihan, co-cooperating counsel concurred.

Amnesty International USA v. Louis Battle and Thomas Cannon was filed in 2006 by the ACLU of Florida in federal court, alleging that police officers from Miami-Dade and the City of Miami prevented members of the human rights organization from exercising their constitutional right to assemble and protest, despite having obtained a permit from the City of Miami Police Department. Members of Amnesty International’s Miami Chapter had a permit to assemble, but police officers prohibited anyone from gathering or entering downtown Miami that day.

In February 2009 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU of Florida, finding that the lawsuit “properly states a valid claim alleging a violation of its First Amendment rights,” therefore allowing the lawsuit to move forward. As a result of negotiations by ACLU of Florida attorneys, the case was able to be settled out of court.

“We are thrilled with this result. Both the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County recognized that their actions prevented us from having a meaningful demonstration for human rights in 2003,” said Jessica Carvalho Morris of Amnesty International’s Miami Chapter. “We expected 300 people to attend the peaceful protest and due to unreasonable police intervention only 15 people were able to reach us. The Court of Appeals’ decision emphasized the violation of our First Amendment rights and we know that the next time anyone plans to have a demonstration in Miami-Dade County both the City and the County will be more careful when planning their response. This is a victory not only for Amnesty International but for everyone in Miami.”

The lawsuit was one of seven brought by the ACLU of Florida as a result of police actions that stifled protest activities during the November 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) events in Miami. Although Amnesty International took no position on the FTAA treaty itself, the peaceful protests were planned to bring attention to human rights abuses in the Americas.

Attorneys in Amnesty International USA v. Louis Battle and Thomas Cannon were Louis M. Jepeway, Jr. and Richard K. Houlihan, Esq., cooperating attorneys; and Randall Marshall, ACLU of Florida Legal Director.

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