News release from Department of Safety:
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Colonel Tracy Trott today announced the preliminary number of traffic fatalities on state roadways have decreased by nearly 14 percent (13.8%) for the first six months of 2013, compared to the same time period in 2012.
The THP reported 436 people died in traffic crashes in Tennessee from January 1 through June 30, 2013. That is 70 fewer than the 506 vehicular fatalities that occurred during the same dates in 2012. Please note these figures include vehicular fatalities reported by all law enforcement agencies across the state.
Colonel Trott also noted a 10.7 percent decline in alcohol-related crashes investigated by the THP. State Troopers worked 975 impaired driving accidents from January 1 through June 30, 2013, a drop from the 1,092 crashes involving alcohol the previous year during the same time frame.
“DUI enforcement has become one of our agency’s top priorities in the last few years. We have arrested 3,151 individuals on suspicion of impaired driving during the first six months of this year – a 9.8 percent increase from the 2,870 DUI arrests made the first half of 2012,” Colonel Trott said. “Each time we remove a drunk driver from our roadways, we reduce the chance of a serious injury or fatal crash occurring,” he added.
Even though it’s been nearly a year since they’ve been removed from Legislative Plaza, the Occupy Nashville protesters are not going away quietly, reports the City Paper. More than a dozen Occupy Nashville protesters, including 13 that were arrested, filed a lawsuit against the state in the U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee on Wednesday. The lawsuit names Gov. Bill Haslam, Department of General Services Commissioner Steven Cates, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and the Tennessee Highway Patrol officers who carried out the dispersion of protesters on War Memorial Plaza last year.
Occupy Nashville took up camp on the plaza on Oct. 6, 2011, building off the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. The lawsuit specifically takes aim at a set of new rules that were enforced to oust the protesters from the plaza. The protesters are requesting a federal judge to permanently prohibit the enforcement of the new rules.
“These New Rules unconstitutionally limit access by the public to a forum universally accepted to be an area protected for the speech of the governed,” the lawsuit said.
The suit also claims the defendants are guilty of First Amendment violations, due process violations, unlawful search and seizure and unlawful arrest.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A review of arrests of Memphis police officers shows that driving under the influence is the leading cause.
The Commercial Appeal reports (http://bit.ly/ULS14a ) that 19 Memphis officers and two civilian employees have been arrested this year. The arrests, along with the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old by an off-duty officer, led Memphis Mayor A C Wharton to request an outside review of police department policies.
In comparison, Nashville’s police department has about 1,400 officers compared to Memphis’ 2,400 officers. So far this year, four Nashville police officers, two trainees and one civilian employee have been arrested so far this year, said Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Memphis has recorded nearly five times as many officer arrests than Nashville.
While the records show that most arrests of officers and police staff have been for minor infractions, such as driving under the influence, Wharton on Sept. 25 expressed frustration with the string of arrests and embarrassing incidents involving Memphis police.
By Kristen Hall, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Occupy Nashville protesters who have been living on Legislative Plaza are preparing for more arrests under a state law passed last month making it illegal for anyone to camp on state-owned land that is not specifically designated for that purpose.
The protesters were given a seven-day notice to remove their campsites last Friday and members of the group said Thursday the state could start enforcing the law starting after midnight.
Jason Steen, a protester, said the law that was designed to evict Occupy Nashville affects anyone who is homeless in Tennessee. The number of tents at the plaza has dwindled, but several remained on Thursday and Steen said he and other protesters planned to stay overnight and risk arrest.
“We do have a number of people who plan on being arrested tonight,” Steen said.
Violators can face up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500 or both. The main provision of the legislation would make it a misdemeanor to lay down “bedding for the purpose of sleeping” on government-owned land at the Capitol.
State Rep. Bill Dunn says his bill requiring federal agencies to notify local law enforcement officers before making arrests in Tennessee is a means of “standing up for the people” against an overreaching federal government.
“There comes a point where we’ve got to put a little bit of pressure on the feds and stand up for our citizens,” the Knoxville Republican told members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee last week.
But Dunn’s HB2610 faced almost an hour of critical questioning from members of the panel who wondered if it amounted to unnecessary overreaching by the Legislature as a “nullification” effort that could jeopardize investigations into local corruption and lead to deputy sheriffs arresting federal agents.
Van Irion, an attorney for the Liberty Legal Foundation who finished third in the 10-candidate Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District nomination in 2010, fielded most of the questions on the legislation that he helped draft. It is a revised version of a bill that was introduced last year which failed to pass.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Police have arrested four more Occupy Nashville protesters and briefly detained a journalist who was trying to cover their activities.
The protesters were cited for disorderly conduct because police say they refused to leave the middle of the road and protest on the sidewalk, according to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/v47Xvw).
Matthew Hamill, who hosts This Occupied Life on 107.1 WRFN-LPFM, Radio Free Nashville, told the newspaper that he was rounded up while videotaping the protesters, but released about 30 minutes later without being charged.
He is the third journalist to be detained while covering the activities of Occupy Nashville protesters.
Such detainments have drawn opposition from the public and media organizations, which argue it leaves an information blackout on the Occupy movement and the government response.
Metro police defended the actions of the officer.
“In reviewing the video, the officer is speaking in the context of the individual ignoring previous commands to remain on the sidewalk. You hear the officer telling him he should not have walked out into the street,” police spokeswoman Kris Mumford said in a written response. “Press status does not override the law. Any citizen of any profession is required to obey police lines and directives. Once the situation was evaluated, he was released without being cited.”
The arrests came as the first major gathering of Occupy protesters from across the state occurred at the plaza outside the state Capitol. About 200 people from Knoxville, Johnson City Chattanooga and Clarksville gathered with Nashville protesters to strategize and focus their efforts.
Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Department of General Services billed Occupy Nashville $1,045 to provide two troopers for security the night before they began arresting the protesters and clearing their encampment.
The invoice was part of a public records request to the department from The Associated Press.
Protester Dorsey Malina said she was one of a group that met with General Services Commissioner Steve Cates on Oct. 26 over their concerns about security on the plaza.
There is some disagreement about what happened at that meeting. Malina said a trooper who had been making the rounds of the plaza at night suddenly stopped showing up and protesters wanted to know why.
They were told the state could not police their encampment and they would have to pay for security, she said.
Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman with the Safety Department, said troopers never stopped patrolling the plaza and Safety officials who attended the meeting do not recall protesters ever raising that concern. They were concerned about safety, she said, so Cates suggested they hire security.
Both sides say the protesters agreed to hire the troopers. On Oct. 27 the protesters received a bill for the services of two troopers from 10:30 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. at a rate of $55 per hour.
From The Tennessean:
Top state officials put off requests for portable toilets at War Memorial Plaza several days before Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration cited unsanitary conditions as a reason for implementing a curfew that prompted dozens of arrests. Email records reviewed by The Tennessean indicate that both state and Metro officials received requests for portable toilets in the days preceding the arrests of Occupy Nashville protesters. The toilets were never installed until after the controversial arrests.
…An official with Mayor Karl Dean’s office contacted the state on Oct. 24 about a request for portable toilets, the records show. But General Services spokeswoman Lola Potter said Tuesday the state was still weighing the idea when Haslam’s administration instead instituted the curfew.
The curfew led to the arrests of 55 protesters, though last week the charges were dropped and the arrest records were expunged. A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order earlier this month and the Occupy Nashville protesters remain encamped on the plaza.
“I think it was an effort to dehumanize us so they could write their own script, but thankfully everything they’ve done so far has backfired,” Occupy Nashville member Dorsey Malina said.
By Kristin Hall, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Attempts to dislodge Wall Street protesters who have occupied parks, plazas and other public spaces have helped the groups in some cities shift their message from poorly defined angst over corporate greed to more broadly understood discussions about rights to free speech and assembly.
Widely publicized arrests in Nashville changed the battle cry from “We are the 99 percent!” to “Whose plaza? Our plaza!” Protesters there and in other cities have cited their First Amendment rights in legal fights against efforts to restrict their gatherings.
First Amendment experts say the argument resonates with people across the political spectrum because petitioning the government in a public forum has been part of American culture since its earliest days.
“It raises the issue to something that Americans feel very passionate about, regardless of where you are on the Wall Street issue or economic or political issues,” said Gene Policinski, senior vice president and executive director for the First Amendment Center in Nashville, a non-partisan group that focuses on education about free speech.
Tennessee state officials arrested dozens of protesters at Legislative Plaza in the shadow of the state capitol building last week after announcing a new overnight curfew. The protesters went to federal court seeking a temporary restraining order against Gov. Bill Haslam arguing the curfew violated their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.
By refusing to issue misdemeanor warrants sought by state officials against Occupy Nashville protesters, reports the Tennessean, Night Court Commissioner Tom Nelson “was transformed from one of Nashville’s least- known judicial officers to a folk hero.” And just like that, a man who has failed five times since 1990 to become a judge solidified himself as a star jurist within the small but passionate encampment on Legislative Plaza.
“His interpretation of the law was very even-handed,” Occupy protester Buck Gorrell said. “It probably took some courage to tell the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the governor that they didn’t hold water.” As protesters awaited a third straight night of arrests that never materialized, cheers erupted when it was announced that Nelson was on duty again that night.
…Signs declaring Nelson an “American hero” and “defender of theConstitution” are among those posted around Legislative Plaza. Protesters signed an oversized thank-you card and marched it to the Metro Courthouse. There’s even talk of creating T-shirts with Nelson’s face on them.
“It’s not really an endorsement thing, it’s just like a thank-you,” said Occupy protester Phillip Schlicher, 31. “You did your job with dignity, and we respect that.”
Just four years earlier, Nelson came to a very different conclusion when 16 homeless advocates were arrested for protesting too late into the night outside the Metro Courthouse. Nelson signed off on the arrests and set bail for each of the protesters at $2,000. The group included Charlie Strobel, a former Catholic priest and founding director of the Room in the Inn homeless shelter. General Sessions Judge Aaron Holt dismissed the charges the next morning, and the arrests, especially of Strobel, were widely panned.
Strobel said that the arrests of Occupy Nashville protesters reminded him of his own arrest, and that he was happy to see Nelson order the demonstrators released.
“Maybe the lesson learned from that was that we need to take these peaceful protests more seriously,” Strobel said.
Nelson declined to be interviewed for this story, so it’s not clear why hehandled the 2007 arrestsof protesters differently. However, Metro had an existing law that closed city parks such as Public Square at 11 p.m., while the state-imposed curfew on Legislative Plaza was created in the middle of the Occupy Nashville protest, after the protesters had been on the plaza for three weeks.