800 arrested, lawsuits coming after RNC protests

The city of St. PaulâÄôs $10 million insurance policy, procured in April, may not run dry, but the city is looking at potentially hundreds of lawsuits as arrests piled up last week. New York City has handed out $600,000 in settlements so far for incidents at the 2004 Republican National Convention, St. Paul City Attorney John Choi said. But Choi said the amount of damage and future allegations against the capital city will never reach the $10 million policy limit, even though allegations are flowing in. Police arrested more than 800 protesters last week and handed out at least 120 felonies, according to Coldsnap Legal Collective , which is linked to the RNC Welcoming Committee âÄîmany of which will result in lawsuits. But authorities argue the opposite, saying police actions were justified and that no one was seriously hurt. Damage and police response Protests started peacefully Monday, but soon turned destructive. Splinter groups from the Coalition to March on the RNC broke shop windows, threw newspaper boxes into the street, assaulted police and media and spread caltrops to impede traffic before authorities broke up the impromptu riot. The rest of the week followed suit as protesters used makeshift smoke bombs, flares, feces, urine and caltrops in their protests. Police reacted with force: pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion grenades. Authorities deny using rubber bullets, but witnesses and journalists reported them being used. Police arrested members of the media along with protesters, including members of Democracy Now and The Minnesota Daily. Many protesters, including first-year Adam Luesse , were arrested Thursday and sent to Ramsey County Jail . Recalling the experience, Luesse said when police arrested him they searched his bag, finding and kicking away his lab goggles, saying that he was trying to avoid their tear gas. The police also confiscated his cell phone, he said, which he never got back. Like Luesse, many protesters called different law firms and legal collectives when they went to jail. Protesters receive immediate legal assistance Many of the students involved in ThursdayâÄôs protest scribbled the Coldsnap Legal Collective hotline number on their arms so they could communicate with the outside world from jail. Coldsnap, a nonprofit organization, informed arrestees of their rights and legal options following arrest and functioned as a central hub, forwarding messages to parents and partners of arrested protesters. During the week, Coldsnap took more than 1,000 calls from arrestees and observers and updated their Twitter service informing where police arrested protesters. Charges ranged from unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, to rioting, a felony. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has 55 attorneys representing more than 100 protesters, 17 of which were arrested before MondayâÄôs protest, spokesman Chuck Samuelson said. Along with the 55 ACLU lawyers representing protesters, the union positioned 75 âÄúspottersâÄù near the protests that handed out political rights pamphlets. âÄúMy ultimate goal is that we donâÄôt ever have a situation like this again,âÄù Samuelson said. Police reactions The University Police Department had four officers in attendance at the RNC âÄî two mounted officers and two motorcycle operators. This put a strain on the remaining UMPD force, mandating that officers work longer than 12-hour days, University police Chief Greg Hestness said. Hestness argued police response was justified considering the methods of protest. âÄúI know that a lot of tear gas was used,âÄù he said. âÄúBut we donâÄôt have any reports of citizens or officers seriously injured.âÄù Hestness said the RNC protests were far tamer in his opinion than the protests following the 2003 Gopher hockey riots when âÄústrictly alcohol-fueledâÄù students took to the streets starting fires and causing damage all over the University.