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Occupy protesters arrested in Oakland to share $1.4 million settlement

(Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters arrested during a 2012 Occupy movement demonstration in Oakland, California, have won a nearly $1.4 million settlement of a lawsuit that accused authorities of violating their civil rights, an attorney said on Thursday.

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The federal lawsuit against Oakland and the county of Alameda said the mass arrests on Jan. 28, 2012, violated the protesters’ constitutional rights to free speech, due process, and protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Attorneys for the protesters contended they were taking part in an Occupy Oakland protest against economic inequality and had gathered peacefully outside a Young Men’s Christian Association center in Oakland when, without cause, police took more than 350 people into custody.

Demonstrators, who according to court documents were held in jail for between 12 and 80 hours, also said they endured unsanitary and overcrowded cells and were denied their rights to contact family members.

Lawyers representing eight plaintiffs who brought the lawsuit are contacting the hundreds of protesters arrested that day who will also get a share of the nearly $1.4 million settlement agreement, said Dan Siegel, attorney for the plaintiffs in the class action suit. A federal magistrate tentatively approved the settlement agreement on Jan. 5.

Siegel said he is contacting protesters listed on arrest and jail records by the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

The settlement agreement was expected to go before the Oakland City Council for its formal approval in the coming weeks, city officials said.

“Occupy was a very costly experience for Oakland and I am very committed to ensuring we never face this level of liability again,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Oakland, like other major U.S. cities, saw a series of major protests in recent months inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Those protests followed a St. Louis, Missouri, grand jury’s decision in November not to indict a white officer from Ferguson in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager and a New York grand jury’s move in December not to indict a white officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man.

Schaaf said the city learned from its handling of the Occupy protests and applied those lessons to better handle the more recent demonstrations.

A final court hearing on the settlement will be held on April 1, Siegel said.

Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Ore.; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Paul Tait