DocuDrama: Pepper-Spray Officer Involved in Nine Lawsuits, Including $30,000 Settlement

Screen shot 2011-10-05 at 2.25.16 PM

Last week, The Guardian reported that Anthony Bologna, the senior police officer who was videotaped using pepper spray on the eyes of protesters, was previously named in a lawsuit alleging police brutality at the 2004 protests of the Republican national convention. The Local has now acquired court documents, some of which are posted below, that show it is just one of nine lawsuits in which the officer is named, all of them alleging the violation of demonstrators’ constitutional rights.

The lawsuits, dating as far back as 2003, accuse Inspector Bologna of personal involvement in numerous false arrests, use of excessive force against demonstrators, and violation of free speech rights. In each of the cases, he was named alongside a list of defendants including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, police commissioner Raymond Kelly, and other senior officials.

Seven of the lawsuits resulted from the arrests of protesters at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Two earlier suits followed arrests at the World Economic Forum in 2002. Four of the cases resulted in settlements in which the city agreed to pay as much as $30,000. The other five remain open.

Inspector Bologna, the other police officials, and the City of New York denied the accusations in all of the lawsuits, court documents show.

Notwithstanding the accusations against him, Mr. Bologna was promoted, in the years since the convention, from captain to deputy inspector.

One central incident in the suits against Inspector Bologna occurred on the evening of August 31, 2004, when more than 1,100 people were arrested within four hours. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say Inspector Bologna was directly involved in the mass arrests that evening.

According to Rose Weber, an attorney involved in bringing two of the lawsuits, Inspector Bologna, as a senior officer, was likely the one in command at 35th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, near the convention at Madison Square Garden, where a large number of people were arrested, many of them standing on the sidewalk, including bystanders.

Asked what Bologna’s role was, Weber said, “He would have been running the show.” Weber added that during depositions in the convention lawsuits, Bologna has never denied being the officer in charge during the 35th street incident. “There is no doubt, given his rank of captain, that he ordered arrests,” added Weber, who represents some 200 people arrested during the convention.

Another attorney with knowledge of the cases, Bruce Bently, said that Inspector Bologna was on the scene during the 35th Street incident.

The complaint filed in one of the lawsuits describes a typical protester’s account of the scene of the arrests near Madison Square Garden on that evening.

According to the documents, a young protester from Maine, Kayla Hershey-Wilson, her boyfriend, and another friend were attempting to reach the convention center “so that their ‘voices,’ actual and symbolic, could be heard.” However as they approached Madison Square Garden “they were blocked in by police barricades and directed to get on the sidewalk.”

Once on the sidewalk, Ms. Hershey-Wilson “observed a white-shirted police officer say to some nearby blue shirted officers, in substance: ‘[A]rrest all of them. Start there.’” A white shirt indicates an officer possessing the rank of lieutenant or higher.

Like hundreds of other detainees, Ms. Hershey-Wilson’s hands were bound behind her back with plastic Flex-Cuffs, and she was transported to the holding center known as “Pier 57,” a former MTA storage facility, which dozens of detainees alleged contained toxic chemicals including motor oil and asbestos.

A separate complaint claimed that a police officer twisted the arm of Ms. Hershey-Wilson’s boyfriend, Jeffrey Black, “up behind his neck [all the while he was rear cuffed] near his shoulder,” allegedly injuring his arm.

Once in the detention center, the lawsuit alleges, a medic examined Mr. Black’s arm and called on a police officer to send him to a hospital, a request which was denied.

In the complaint, Ms. Hershey-Wilson said she had difficulty breathing while she was held overnight in Pier 57. She was released the following day. The lawsuit in her case accuses the police of arresting her without probable cause while using “unnecessary, excessive, unreasonable force.”

The city agreed in 2007 to pay Ms. Hershey-Wilson $13,000 in a settlement that included the dismissal of the charges against Inspector Bologna, the City, and other officials. Mr. Black’s separate case was settled for $30,000.

But other cases related to the 35th Street arrests remain open. For example, the complaint in another suit, Greenwald et. al. versus The City of New York et al., alleges that Inspector Bologna and a number of other officials were “personally involved in formulating and/or implementing procedures that resulted in plaintiffs’ unlawful arrests, incarcerations, and prosecutions.”

In addition to detaining large numbers of protesters, police also arrested a number of bystanders during the 35th street incident. A report from the New York Civil Liberties Union mentions a number of such arrests, including that of a high school senior who was on her way to the movies.

Inspector Bologna’s name surfaced when the hacker group Anonymous released a dossier online identifying him as the officer in the pepper spray video. Among the information released by the group was a reference to one of the convention lawsuits. That lawsuit stemmed from an incident on Aug. 31, 2004, this time in Union Square, alleging that Inspector Bologna personally ordered another officer to arrest a demonstrator named Posr A. Posr, without probable cause.

In the video clip of the more recent incident, a white-shirted officer appears, directing a stream of pepper spray into the eyes of two young women already encircled by an orange police net. Another video showed Inspector Bologna using pepper spray a second time. According to The New York Times, the incidents, which took place during a demonstration organized by the anti-corporate “Occupy Wall Street” movement, are under investigation. A law enforcement official familiar with Inspector Bologna’s account told The Times that he was attempting to spray some men who were confronting officers, rather than aiming at the women who appeared in videos.

For Rose Weber, the attorney in the 2004 cases, Inspector Bologna’s resurfacing is telling. “I think it shows that the NYPD culture tolerates this sort of behavior, that there are no consequences within the NYPD culture,” she said.

In yet another incident, The Times reported yesterday that protesters arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge last week have filed a suit against New York City, alleging they were lured into a trap by officers.

Representatives of the New York Police Department did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Hershey-Wilson Complaint

Answer to Hershey-Wilson Complaint

Amended Black Complaint

Answer to Amended Black Complaint