Bloomberg News

New York Police May Use City Bus Drivers in Protest Arrests

October 04, 2011

(Updates with judge’s comments in third paragraph.)

Oct. 4 (Bloomberg) -- New York police may require unionized bus drivers to transport protesters arrested during anti-Wall Street demonstrations, a federal judge ruled, denying a request for a temporary injunction while their union sues the city.

U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer in Manhattan today rejected Transport Workers Union Local 100’s request for a temporary restraining order. The union seeks to stop police from forcing New York City Transit Authority bus drivers to drive people arrested at demonstrations to holding facilities. The judge didn’t rule on the request for a permanent injunction.

Engelmayer said a June 1997 bulletin from the authority’s chief transportation officer included in a standard training manual for bus drivers instructs operators on what to do when a bus is commandeered by the fire or police departments.

The bulletin “strongly indicates” that drivers were aware they may need to assist police or fire officials, the judge said. He said buses have been commandeered by the New York City Police Department at least three other times: after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; after a building collapse to take people to hospitals; and ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Irene in August to evacuate nursing home residents.

“Police and transit workers are public workers that work in the same city and have a common duty,” the judge said, noting that New York state penal law requires a person to assist police with an arrest when it’s “reasonable” to do so.

700 Arrests

The union, whose 38,000 members include 9,000 bus drivers, last week said it’s supporting the protests, which were thrust into the national spotlight when police arrested more than 700 demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1.

Police hailed buses traveling in downtown Brooklyn after Department of Correction vehicles got stuck in traffic, said Arthur Schwartz, an attorney for the union. The drivers were ordered to back their vehicles onto the Brooklyn Bridge to pick up arrested protesters and drive them to One Police Plaza and other locations, Schwartz said.

Engelmayer disagreed with Schwartz’s argument that police may commandeer buses again during a march planned for tomorrow, saying that assessment is “highly speculative” and that the police are likely to be more prepared than they were last weekend.

‘Very Unusual’

“Last Saturday involved very unusual circumstances,” Arthur Larkin, an attorney with the city’s Law Department, said in a statement. “The court appropriately found that the police department’s limited use of MTA buses was not unreasonable. We’re very pleased with the ruling.”

The NYPD “will be prepared” for tomorrow’s march and “it would not appear likely that the police are going to have to do what they did last Saturday,” Larkin said. He said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that buses might be again commandeered.

“It has been a longstanding practice for the MTA to assist the city’s police and fire personnel when they request emergency assistance,” Jeremy Soffin, a spokesman for the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority that runs the New York City Transit Authority, said in an e-mail. “We are pleased that the federal court rejected the TWU’s motion and determined that the union’s lawsuit lacked any probability of success.”

The next hearing in the union’s suit against the city is scheduled for Nov. 1 before Engelmayer. Schwartz said that he hadn’t decided whether to appeal today’s ruling.

‘Other Avenues’

“We’re going to seek other avenues,” John Samuelsen, Local 100’s president, told reporters after today’s hearing.

Paul Browne, an NYPD spokesman, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on today’s decision.

The protest continued today several blocks south of the courthouse, as about 200 people occupied the demonstration site at Zuccotti Park. As of 2:30 p.m. local time, no demonstrators had been arrested today, Browne said.

A few dozen participants held a daily “occupiers’ meeting” this morning in the northeast corner of the park to discuss logistics. A cardboard sign with the agenda listed announcements, housekeeping and security.

One man at the meeting said that a proposal to not engage in activity that would draw police attention needed to be more clear, saying it was hard to define what behavior will attract law enforcement.

Infrastructure, Song

“Our movement is expanding so quickly that we’ve been meeting constantly to expand our infrastructure,” one of the organizers, Julien Harrison, 29, from Eugene, Oregon, said in an interview. Harrison said he’s been at the site for two weeks.

Nearby, a group of six children and five adults sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.” The children held yellow signs: “We believe in: fairness,” “We believe in: sharing.” The children were joined by Peter Yarrow of the former folk group Peter Paul & Mary. He played acoustic guitar while they sank “The Banks Are Made of Marble.”

At the far west end of the park, a sign read, “NYPD Protects and Serves the Rich.”

Regular marches in the area were scheduled for the afternoon, as well as a teachers union march, according to the protest’s information desk.

The case is Samuelsen v. Kelly, 11-06947, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

--Editors: Andrew Dunn, Stephen Farr

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in New York federal court at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net and: Thom Weidlich in lower Manhattan at tweidlich@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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