Occupy Wall Street sues NYC over confiscated books

NEW YORK Thu May 24, 2012 3:02pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Occupy Wall Street filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against New York City, claiming authorities destroyed $47,000 worth of books, computers and other equipment confiscated from the protesters' encampment in lower Manhattan last fall.

Police conducted a surprise overnight raid at Zuccotti Park in November, clearing scores of protesters who had set up tents at the plaza near Wall Street and dealing a significant blow to the movement's potency.

As part of the sweep, Occupy claims, police officers seized approximately 3,600 books from the "People's Library" that had been donated to the movement. The protesters claim only 1,000 were returned, 200 of them in unusable condition - including a copy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's autobiography.

"To this day, OWS has not been told by the City of New York what happened to the missing books and the Library furnishings and equipment," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan federal court.

Norman Siegel, one of the lawyers representing Occupy, said other cities that conducted similar crackdowns went to court before seizing property, a step that New York chose to skip.

"This is a David vs. Goliath lawsuit," he said. "We're confident that we will prevail."

Kate O'Brien Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the city's law department, said the city was waiting to be served with a copy of the lawsuit before commenting.

The lawsuit alleges several constitutional violations, including due process and unreasonable seizure claims. It names Bloomberg, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the city's sanitation chief and unnamed workers who may have destroyed the books.

Michele Hardesty, 34, an associate professor at Hunter College in New York and one of the Occupy librarians, said the movement had carefully cataloged every book and could document each missing item.

Since the predawn sweep at Zuccotti, Occupy Wall Street has struggled to recapture the momentum of its fall campaign, when camps across the country inspired widespread protests against income inequality. The movement has faced funding problems in recent months as donations dried up.

A series of "May Day" demonstrations May 1 led to clashes with police from New York to Oakland, California, but a call for a general workers' strike failed to materialize.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Vicki Allen)

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