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Judge to city and protesters: ‘Work it out yourselves’ 

Police converge on City Hall on Sept. 16, 2020, in response to demonstrators "occupying" the exterior of the building.

PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE

Police converge on City Hall on Sept. 16, 2020, in response to demonstrators "occupying" the exterior of the building.

When it comes to the litany of lawsuits brought against the city of Rochester by racial and social justice protesters, federal Judge Frank Geraci doesn’t want to hear about it.

On Thursday, the judge urged attorneys from both sides to resolve the more than two dozen cases between them in mediation, saying doing so presented a “great opportunity to move forward.”

The lawsuits stem from the police response to the massive protests that erupted in Rochester last year and in 2020, particularly the near round-the-clock demonstrations following the revelations of the death of Daniel Prude at the hands of Rochester police.

During some of the larger protests, police used pepper balls and chemical irritants, and, more sparingly, flashbang grenades on the crowd. Many of the protesters who brought the lawsuits claimed to have experienced physical injury and emotional trauma.

“We certainly all mourn the death of Daniel Prude, and we certainly all mourn the death of Officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz,” Geraci said. “It’s time to move forward, and these defendants need to be heard completely, but our history shows we can do that in this community.”

All of the plaintiffs are represented by lawyers Elliot Shields and Don Thompson, who represented relatives of Prude and publicly released the details of his death. So far, two cases have been settled. One of them was filed by County Legislator Rachel Barnhart, who said she was shot in the head with a pepper ball on Sept. 5, 2020, while filming officers.

The lawsuit with the most claimants is being led by Anthony Hall, who is now coordinator of the city’s Pathways to Peace program. Last month, Geraci, rejected a plea by the city to dismiss that case, a ruling Shields called a “landmark decision.”

“Moreover, the city ignores that, far from being irrelevant, the newspaper articles, cartoons, and previous lawsuits actually suggest that the city was aware of but disregarded the discriminatory application of excessive force,” Geraci wrote in that decision.

On Thursday, Geraci said it could take five years for the cases to get to trial. He noted the district has a shortage of judges and that it is seeking support from other jurisdictions. Geraci urged finding some sort of "global resolution" which could satisfy all cases.

“The complaints made in these cases, and the issues they bring up, they’re complex, and it’s going to be a lengthy time if we go through trial,” Geraci said.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.

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