Ms. Bryant Understands the Ugliness of Litigation and Stands Strong for Her Clients

The New York Times:  March 17, 2006

Victim of Post-Parade Sex Attack Settles Suit Over Police Indifference

Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times

Anne Peyton Bryant, center, with her lawyer, Susan Karten. Ms. Bryant settled a suit against the city stemming from police officers‘ refusal to assist her after she was attacked in Central Park nearly six years ago.

Published: March 17, 2006

She was skating through Central Park with a friend on a beautiful June afternoon in 2000, as the Puerto Rican Day Parade was ending, when a mob of men doused her with water and beer. They threw her to the ground, she recalled yesterday, tried to strip off her shorts and began groping her breasts and genitals.

The mob chanted “Go, go, go,” and was so thick that she couldn’t see the sky. “I could feel hands on every part of my body,” the woman, Anne Peyton Bryant, said in an interview. “I didn’t know whether I was going to get out of there alive.”

As the mob, which had gathered in the park near Central Park South and Avenue of the Americas, turned its attention to other women, Ms. Bryant said she ran to a police officer on a scooter, then three more, pleading for help. She was ignored. At a nearby precinct house, she was told to come back and make a report when she had calmed down, she said.

Instead, Ms. Bryant eventually sued the city and the Police Department for failing to heed her cries for help. Yesterday, after nearly six years of speaking out and testifying at criminal and police disciplinary hearings, Ms. Bryant and the city settled that suit. With the trial about to begin and a jury waiting for opening statements, the city agreed to pay her $125,000.

Afterward, Ms. Bryant — who is now in her last year at New York Law School, inspired, she said, by what happened to her — said she felt vindicated, but still upset about how long it had taken the city to acknowledge her suffering.

“They really, really dragged me through the dirt,” said Ms. Bryant, 34, who came to the city after graduating from Wellesley in 1994.

“I probably learned more about the ugliness of the process of litigation having to go through this than I ever learned in law school.”

Ms. Bryant was referring in part to the city’s plans to use bitter e-mail messages she exchanged with her ex-husband after the attack to make a case that her divorce could have been the source of her distress.

Mark Palomino, a city lawyer, said the settlement was “in the best interest of all the parties involved.” It appeared to bring a close to one of the more embarrassing incidents for the Police Department in recent years.

About three weeks after the parade, Howard Safir, then the police commissioner, said an internal investigation had found “deficiencies” in the way police commanders deployed their officers after the parade. He said he was most disturbed that several officers “failed to take proper police action when apprised by victims of criminal conduct.”

Susan Karten, Ms. Bryant’s lawyer, said Mr. Safir would have been called to testify at Ms. Bryant’s trial.

Ms. Bryant’s settlement was the last of 22 with women who said they were attacked during the parade, according to City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. The settlements ranged from $1,000 to $150,000, and now total $621,000.

The biggest settlement went to a British tourist who was 18 at the time. The tourist, whose name has been withheld by officials, was stripped and sexually assaulted with fingers, her lawyer, Nicholas Sekas, said yesterday.

Eighteen men were convicted of charges stemming from the rioting.

More than 50 women came forward to say they had been attacked in the park after the parade, and Ms. Karten said yesterday that many of them did so only after Ms. Bryant spoke out about the attacks on television. Ms. Karten accused the city of retaliating for Ms. Bryant’s outspokenness by being “intransigent” in settling with her. A spokeswoman for the corporation counsel said the city had been willing to settle all along, for the right amount.

Ms. Karten said Ms. Bryant became obsessed by her inability to stop the attack in the park, and had to resign from her job as a marketing director of an Internet company. Ms. Bryant said she hoped to put her experience to good use by becoming a lawyer and taking cases involving violence against women.


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