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Judge orders release of 560 held overnight; police defend arrests

NEW YORK -- Demonstrations continued to sweep through the city on the final day of the Republican National Convention as a Manhattan judge ordered the release of scores of protesters detained for more than a day.

Supreme Court Justice John Cataldo ordered city officials yesterday to release 560 protesters within hours after hearing that the detainees had spent at least 36 hours in custody since their arrests this week. Many of them had been in jail after being picked up during planned acts of civil disobedience Tuesday.

Legal Aid lawyer Irwin Shaw told the judge that most of the protesters were held for minor offenses, such as disorderly conduct, while shoplifters and other petty criminals arrested Wednesday night had already been freed.

In a park across from the courthouse in Lower Manhattan, 40 to 50 people cheered as a few detainees walked out. Self-styled medics were there to greet them with first-aid kits and cigarettes. People held signs saying ''Free my daughter" or ''Let my house guest go!" As of early evening, police said 26 people had been arrested during 10 separate protests during the day.

''The City of New York is in effect being the arresting officer . . . the judge and the jury," said Norman Siegel, a civil rights lawyer who represented the mother of a 17-year-old boy arrested Tuesday. Siegel said the city was holding the suspects for long periods to prevent them from participating in other demonstrations.

Some detainees and activists have charged that police were holding the arrested protesters until President Bush left the city last night.

In a statement, Deputy Police Chief Paul Browne denied that protesters were being held for that reason. City officials also blamed delays on the large number of arrests. Instead of the typical 300 arraignments in Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday, said Michael Cardozo, city corporation counsel, there were 1,200 arrests in four hours that day.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that while the police acted appropriately in many instances, she said authorities also made sweeping arrests that caught up innocent people.

''The police seem to have adopted the policy that everybody protesting that day was engaging in civil disobedience, which simply was not the case," she said. ''The police have an obligation to differentiate what's lawful from what's against the law, and they didn't do that."

Emma Lang, 19, a student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said she came to New York to volunteer as a street medic, not a protester, but was swept up by police Tuesday as she watched a march in Lower Manhattan.

''I was literally arrested for walking down the street," Lang said. ''I wasn't doing anything."

Lang, who was charged with disorderly conduct, said she spent 12 hours in custody, and half of that time in a temporary detention center off the West Side Highway at Pier 57, which activists have labeled ''Guantanamo on the Hudson," because they say it is filthy, does not have enough toilets and benches, and may contain asbestos.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly rejected those criticisms as unfounded.

''Contrary to another false report, the air quality at the facility is fine and was tested as recently as last night," he said in a statement. ''There has been some exaggerated claims and outright falsehoods about conditions at our postarrest screening site."

The statement also said all detainees are kept in holding areas secured by chain-link fences and that they have had immediate access to toilet facilities and drinking water. Police said the facility is the first stop in the otherwise standard procedure for people who have been arrested.

''No prisoners are housed there, and the longest any person has been detained waiting further processing has been eight hours," Kelly said.

Police admitted to some delays in the booking process caused by property left on buses and problems with matching arresting officers with their prisoners.

Throughout the week, authorities have said that demonstrations have been peaceful overall, and that the protesters causing the most problems were from outside New York state. Browne said a preliminary analysis of convention-related arrests showed that of the first 1,796 persons arrested, 61 refused to identify themselves to police. He said of the 1,735 who did identify themselves, 1,135 live outside the Empire State.

Bryan Bender of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.

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