By Michael Y. Park
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City has agreed to pay $583,000 in a settlement with 14 Occupy Wall Street protesters who were arrested during a New Year's Day march in 2012, lawyers for the plaintiffs announced Tuesday.
The demonstrators have won damages and attorneys' fees from the city for their false arrest on New Year's morning 2012, their attorney, Wylie Stecklow, said in a statement.
Stecklow said it was the largest single settlement related to the Occupy Wall Street protests, which began in September 2011 as a statement against income inequality and corporate influence in America.
"This systematic false arrest and misconduct by high-ranking (New York Police Department) officers is a symptom of an institutional practice of chilling expressive-speech activity and suppressing protest in New York City," Stecklow said in the statement.
The arrests took place on Jan. 1, a few hours after some 300 protesters had attempted to retake Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where the movement first camped out before being expelled in November 2011.
During their march to the park, the 14 plaintiffs and about 20 other demonstrators were confronted by officers who refused to allow them to disperse, and were arrested for blocking pedestrian traffic, attorney David Thompson said at a press conference near City Hall.
Garrett O'Conner, one of the protesters who sued the city over his arrest, said he was trapped, pinned down and roughly handled by several officers who ordered him to leave, yet gave him no opportunity to do so. He said the protesters made a point of marching peacefully.
"There were a number of experienced activists in the march," O'Conner said. "They were trying to do the right thing."
A spokeswoman for the City of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the settlement agreement filed by the city last Tuesday, the city denied all wrongdoing.
In April, the city agreed in another settlement to pay demonstrators more than $100,000 for property that was damaged or lost when police raided Zuccotti Park.
Since 2011, it is estimated that thousands of Occupy Wall Street activists have been arrested in protests around the country, and civil rights activists have questioned the tactics law-enforcement officials from the New York Police Department to the FBI have used to surveil and infiltrate the movement.
(Editing by Curtis Skinner and Jim Loney)