Protesters cash in with $130,000 settlement

Eleven plaintiffs will receive $130,000 in a settlement for a lawsuit against the city of Kent for arrests during a protest on May 4, 2003.

In the lawsuit, the protesters alleged that the city and the Kent Police Department obstructed their First Amendment rights.

The settlement, which city officials said was made to avoid the costs of going to trial, turned out to be a bit higher than expected.

An attorney with the city’s insurance company, Scottsdale Insurance Company, mistakenly included court costs and attorney fees in the total settlement, said Kent Law Director Jim Silver. But it is the insurance company’s responsibility to pay what the city’s deductible did not cover. Silver said he was unsure of the deductible’s amount.

“The sum was sufficient for the city to recognize they need to pay attention to First Amendment rights,” said Nancy Grim, a Kent attorney.

Grim, who represented nine of the 11 plaintiffs, said arrests were made based on who police perceived as leaders of the protest, not who violated the law.

Every spring, hundreds gather at Kent State to remember the four slain on May 4, 1970. In 2003, a group branched off from Manchester Field and marched to the corner of Lincoln and Main streets, protesting the United States’ continued presence in Iraq.

Chief of Police Jim Peach said the group did not attempt to get a permit to protest in the city.

“They chose not to bother to comply with procedure,” he said.

Peach said police were tipped off to protesters’ plan to march down state Route 59. About 230 law enforcement officers were on hand for the 300 to 400 protesters gathered near the intersection.

The crowd spilled from the sidewalks and university lawn into the street, which police then blocked off for safety, Peach said.

“I don’t care what they say, the point was we didn’t want them saying it in the road,” Silver said.

Through megaphones and by helicopter, police in riot gear ordered the crowd to disperse. When they didn’t, police made arrests.

Grim said the police formed a line and began picking out those they believed to be the leaders.

“They arrested people without knowing who did the thing — walked in the street,” Grim said.

Many later had the charges dropped. Others had their cases acquitted or overturned.

The 11 came together to file a lawsuit against the city. The case was to be tried under U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Boyko, sitting in U.S. District Court for Northern Ohio in Cleveland. A settlement was reached, and Boyko closed the court proceedings May 3, 2007, according to court documents. Each of the 11 plaintiffs will receive an undisclosed portion of the settlement.

Though the plaintiffs were pleased with the outcome, the city was too.

“The judge did not determine there was any wrong-doing,” Peach said. “We’re glad it’s behind us.”

Scottsdale Insurance Company could not be reached for comment.

Contact public affair reporter Leslie Arntz at [email protected] and city editor Amadeus Smith at [email protected].