An Occupy Wall Street protester who was accused of assaulting two NYPD officers with a metal pipe in 2012 has won a sizable settlement from the city. Alexander Penley, 44, sued for false arrest and imprisonment and is getting $25,001, plus $30,000 in attorneys fees.
Penley’s case against the city is rooted in an incident that took place on April 14, 2012 outside of Starbucks at the corner of Lafayette and Astor Place. Around 9:00 that night, police received a report about a “disorderly group” of 25 individuals hitting the windows of the Starbucks with eight-foot-long galvanized metal pipes. A police officer intervened. According to the NYPD, two men hit the officer with one of those pipes, and then fled the scene.
About an hour later Penley and another man, Nicholas Thommen, were arrested in conjunction with the Starbucks incident, outside the Sixth Street Community Center. They were attending an after-party for the Anarchist Book Fair.
“I was at an after-party for the Anarchist Book Fair. I was simply sitting down and talking to a friend of mine when ten secret police…marched up the street, turned, and starting beating up my friend,” Penley told us. “I said, ‘I’m an international lawyer, what’s going on?’ …. They turned their violence towards me and started kicking and beating me for about fifteen minutes.”
Penley was charged with assaulting a police officer (a felony), menacing, criminal possession of a weapon, resisting arrest, and inciting a riot. He spent 24 hours in prison, after which he was diagnosed with a concussion.
One of Penley’s lawyers, Samuel Cohen of the firm Stecklow Cohen & Thompson, referred us this morning to cartoonist Seth Tobocman’s drawn eyewitness account of the book fair encounter. In the cartoon, plainclothes cops attack two book fair attendees without provocation.
“I’m not certain, to this day, that there was any more reason for arresting and accusing Mr. Penley of the Starbucks incident than simply that he happened to be one of the people that was seized and beaten by police in front of the book fair,” Cohen told us.
Penley’s charges were soon dropped, but he says cops continued to harass him. A few months later he was slapped with a criminal mischief charge, which was also quickly dropped.
Cohen tells us that that charge arose after Penley called the police for assistance because he was locked out of his apartment. “Those charges were very strange. He was alleged to have kicked in a neighbor’s door and cause it to splinter. When I contacted the alleged complaining witness, she… denied ever having resided in the building,” Cohen said.
In late march of 2013, Penley was arrested again, in Virginia, for having an open warrant in New York (which turned out to be an error in record keeping). He filed his federal suit against the City last October.
Penley said “one of the worst things” about his 2012 arrest is that “I know that nobody will ever get charged [for it].”
“The only reason that I took such a tiny [settlement], is… that it’s much more important to get it out to the world that it’s open season on anybody they so choose, than it was to hold out for a little more money that might have come with a gag order. I don’t want to be quiet about this.”
A Law Department spokesman told the News, “Settling this case was in the best interest for the city.”
Penley says that he will never live in New York City again. He moved to Oklahoma in the spring of 2013, and currently resides in Washington, D.C.
Published originally on http://gothamist.com