NEW YORK, NY -- A New York transit union cannot block cops from arresting city bus drivers who refuse to drive Occupy Wall Street protesters to prison, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The union's lawyer, Arthur Z. Schwartz with Advocates for Justice, told Courthouse News Service that he was "disappointed" by the ruling, but added that U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer "made it clear" that the union can move forward with a case for a permanent injunction preventing the police from recruiting public transportation workers to drive prison buses.
New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly and NYC Transit Authority President Thomas Prendergast had hoped to get the case tossed entirely.
The Transport Workers Union of Greater New York, Local 100, recently endorsed Occupy Wall Street, which started on Sept. 17 as protesters claimed a privately owned park next to the New York Stock Exchange as their headquarters for an ongoing and indefinite demonstration against corporate corruption.
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In a county court lawsuit filed Monday, the union described a Oct. 1 demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge that resulted in the arrest of more than 700 people.
"The demonstrators were all peaceful, were rounded up in nets en masse, and were all charged with a violation, disorderly conduct, for interfering with traffic on the bridge," their complaint states. "The NYPD, with the consent of the NYCTA, did, after the arrests, send officers to the end of a number of bus lines in Brooklyn and ordered bus drivers to drive to the Brooklyn Bridge. Once there, the drivers were directed to transport prisoners to various holding processing facilities in Brooklyn and Manhattan. All but nine of the 700 arrestees were released from the holding facilities with desk appearance tickets or summonses."
NYPD later released two videos, each showing a single cop shouting with a bullhorn in front of hundreds of chanting protesters to not enter the bridge. Protesters were widely quoted as saying that they did not hear the warnings and accused police of luring them onto the roadway to arrest them.
The New York Times quoted an anonymous law enforcement official describing the arrests as a "planned move on the protesters," for which they ordered up to 10 prison buses in advance from Rikers Island.
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But the NYPD told Judge Engelmayer at a hearing that the mass arrests caught them off guard, and that it had recruited city bus drivers because of staff issues, Schwartz said.
"It was unprecedented that bus drivers were being required to do this work," Schwartz told Courthouse News. "The police department was basically saying that they screwed up. So they needed the bus drivers to bail them out."
According to the complaint, city bus drivers were torn between their sympathies for the Occupy Wall Street activists and their fears of arrest.
"None of the bus drivers who were directed to drive to the Brooklyn Bridge and transport prisoners were given the option to refuse the assignment, and each did so with the belief that he could be disciplined and/or arrested if he refused," the complaint states.
The transport union encouraged its members to join demonstrators on Wednesday, and the rejection of the injunction could make their members more vulnerable to arrest.
"It's hard to tell whether the police are going to engage in mass arrest or not," Schwartz said."Hopefully, if they do decide that tomorrow is the day to arrest people, they'll have lots of buses driven by police officers," he joked.