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The Manhattan district attorney’s office said Wednesday it would not press charges against 227 people arrested during a Republican National Convention protest that prompted sharp criticisms of the New York Police Department. The protesters gathered along Fulton Street, near the site of the World Trade Center, on the afternoon of Aug. 31 for a march and an eventual “die-in” at Madison Square Garden, the site of the convention. They did not have a permit, and police officers warned them to obey traffic laws and stay on the sidewalk. The officers said if the protesters obeyed the law, they could “have a safe march.” Within minutes, however, officers called for the crowd to disperse and then swooped in to arrest the marchers, using nets, according to a district attorney’s account given to the court. They were charged with violations. The arrests angered civil liberties groups that accused the police of using a bait-and-switch tactic against people who were marching peacefully and trying to follow the law. Three of the protesters appeared in court Wednesday when Assistant District Attorney William O. Beesch announced that all charges would be dropped against those arrested in connection with the march. “By telling the protesters they could have a ‘safe march,’ albeit under strict limitations, the police likely created the impression among the participants that the march had official sanction,” Beesch told Judge Kathryn E. Freed, who was presiding over the Criminal Court at 100 Centre Street. Given the number of protesters, Beesch said, “It would be difficult to establish that the individual defendants who have been charged were deliberately defying police directives or were intentionally acting in a disorderly manner.” The prosecutor did not absolve the protesters from blame, saying they had blocked traffic and pedestrians, even if it was not deliberate. He added that they “did not immediately comply with the conditions set down by the police and did not disperse when so directed.” The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) met with prosecutors in recent weeks to discuss the arrests, and delivered a tape that helped establish the interactions between police and protesters. Wednesday, the group praised the decision of District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. “It’s a pretty clear signal that these arrests were not lawful, as we have maintained from the outset,” said Christopher Dunn, the NYCLU’s associate legal director. More than 1,700 people were arrested during the Aug. 30-Sept. 2 convention, and many of them were detained for far longer than the 24-hour maximum under the law. The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has praised the work of police officers during the convention, but Wednesday’s announcement put administration officials on the defensive. “The DA’s action today does not cast any doubt about the actions of the defendants, who were blocking pedestrian traffic in violation of the law, but reflects the difficulty of proving their intent in doing so,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said in a statement. “Police officers acted with restraint and professionalism throughout, an assessment shared by the District Attorney’s Office.” Norman Siegel, a lead attorney for many convention arrestees who helped obtain a release order in state Supreme Court, said the district attorney had made the right decision. “The arrests were false and illegal and it would have been punitive and vindictive to prosecute the protesters,” he said. “Preemptive arrests, orange netting and indiscriminate arrests should not be part of the response to protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.” Siegel called for further investigation into police tactics used during the convention, and said Wednesday’s decision strengthened the case for civil litigation against the city. “People should not be surprised by civil litigation because people’s constitutional rights were violated,” he said. Dunn agreed that civil suits are likely. “We have been planning to bring civil litigation on these mass arrests, and today’s decisions simply reinforces our belief that those arrests were all unlawful,” he said. A number of the protesters who were arrested had already resolved their prosecutions with adjournments in contemplation of dismissal. The district attorney’s office said it is working with the court system to find them and have their charges dismissed immediately.

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