Attorneys representing Gov. Bill Haslam and various state agencies are appealing a recent federal ruling that found the state unlawfully arrested members of the Occupy Nashville group. reports the Tennessean. According to a notice of appeal filed late last week, the state objects to U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger siding with the Occupy Nashville plaintiffs.
Trauger wrote that the state “cannot make law by fiat” and that the protesters’ First Amendment rights were violated when they were arrested. The appeal, which will be heard by the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, will be spelled out in detail in about a month, when the appeal’s legal brief is filed, according to attorney Dawn Jordan, who is representing the state.
Last month, Trauger wrote that state and local agencies made a series of mistakes in the way they handled the Occupy Nashville protesters in the fall of 2011. State officials have held that the Occupy encampment on War Memorial Plaza was a public safety concern, pointing to mounting trash and reports of fights and lewd behavior.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled in favor of members of the Occupy Nashville movement who claimed their free speech rights were violated when they were arrested while protesting in 2011 on War Memorial Plaza.
U.S. District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote in an order issued on Wednesday that the seven plaintiffs’ rights to engage in constitutionally protected free speech activity was violated when they were arrested based on a hastily written rule that banned camping on the plaza.
The plaintiffs sued Gov. Bill Haslam, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Commissioner of General Services Steven Cates. Trauger’s order denied some of the plaintiffs’ claims but also said that they had prevailed in proving that the state officials could be held liable on claims of violations of free speech rights, violation of due process and unlawful arrest.
Following the national Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters began a 24-hour-a-day presence on the plaza outside of the state Capitol in early October 2011. But the state started getting complaints about trash and public urination and other problems. The state then issued a new policy banning overnight camping on the state property.
In the early morning of Oct. 28, 2011, several protesters were arrested, but a local judicial commissioner refused to sign the arrest warrants because there had not been enough notice of the policy change. The following night, more protesters were arrested, but they were released with misdemeanor citations.
Trauger wrote in her order that even though the state had concerns about public safety on the plaza, officials still had to follow the law to address those concerns.
“Instead, without providing adequate notice to the public at large, they informally attempted to change the law overnight, made no record of the proceedings, and failed to consult with the Attorney General, who otherwise must pass on the constitutional validity of any rule (whether adopted through traditional or emergency procedures) before it becomes law,” Trauger wrote.
David Briley, an attorney representing the Occupy Nashville group, called the ruling a resounding victory for the principles of free speech and protest.
Gov. Bill Haslam won’t have to face a court deposition as part of a lawsuit filed by Occupy Nashville following a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Joe B. Brown on Thursday afternoon, reports The City Paper. But amid the state’s defense against Haslam being deposed, Assistant Attorney General Dawn Jordan told Brown that Haslam had provided incorrect information to the media about the Office of the Attorney General’s involvement prior to the Occupy arrests.
“We had conversations last week that involved General Services, Safety and the Attorney General’s Office was part of the conversations,” Haslam told media on Nov. 4, 2011. “… all those folks were part of the conversations.”
Jordan said that quote was not true — and used the mishap to illustrate how Haslam didn’t have “unique personal knowledge” of the conversations surrounding the implementation of a policy that resulted in the arrests at Legislative Plaza.
When asked for comment, the Governor’s Office told The City Paper it would be inappropriate to comment on Haslam’s interaction with the Attorney General’s Office due to the active lawsuit.
Brown suggested that the Occupy Nashville attorneys didn’t exhaust other methods of legal discovery before requesting to depose the governor. Occupy Nashville will have the opportunity to pose the governor questions through filing interrogatories and requests for admission. Brown said if the answers aren’t satisfactory, Occupy Nashville could request to depose Haslam again.
And while Haslam avoided having to be deposed, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and Department of General Services Commissioner Steven Cates will each have to undergo four hours of deposition.
Gov. Bill Haslam and two of his commissioners are refusing to talk on the record with lawyers about how they decided to arrest Occupy Nashville protesters camped on War Memorial Plaza in 2011, reports Andrea Zelinski. In response to a motion by Attorney General Robert Cooper to spare the high-ranking officials from depositions, lawyers representing the protesters are urging a judge to force the trio to share details only they know about deciding on curfew rules that led troopers to make 54 arrest at an Occupy Nashville protest in two midnight police raids.
“The Governor and the Commissioner should not be permitted to make statements freely to the press about their personal knowledge and involvement when it suits their public relations strategy, but in the next breath hide from deposition by claiming high ranking official immunity when they are sued for those very same actions,” read the motion filed by three local ACLU of Tennessee cooperating attorneys who filed the lawsuit for Occupy Nashville. “To do so would be patently unfair.”
Attorneys had originally planned to depose the governor, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and General Services Commissioner Steven Cates by Friday of this week. Cooper pre-empted the depositions by asking for an order of protection, saying the state had already handed over 13,000 pages of documents. Additionally, five state government staffers — including the author of the curfew rules — gave depositions about meetings where decisions over the plaza’s “Use Policy” with a curfew were made.
“There is no evidence at this juncture that the defendants’ depositions would actually be necessary — the discovery can be had, and has been had, by other means,” stated Cooper’s motion from Jan. 2.
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) — Memphis police officers on Friday dismantled the Occupy Memphis encampment from a downtown plaza that served as the movement’s home for 10 months.
Officers moved in around 4 a.m. Friday to take down Occupy Memphis’ tents at the Civic Center Plaza, which sits directly across City Hall and is near several other government buildings. No arrests were reported.
The encampment was set up last October as part of the national Occupy movement, which railed against income inequality and referred to itself as representing the “99 percent” of Americans who don’t have the money or the power to influence political decisions about the economy.
Memphis officials had allowed Occupy Memphis to keep its camp active as long as members did not break any laws. Unlike in other cities, Occupy Memphis never had a violent clash with police.
However, the movement, which claimed about 100 members at one time, had dwindled to a few die-hards. At its peak, members were using portable batteries to generate electricity to cook food and run lights. They also received donations of food and sundries from Memphis residents.
Memphis city officials said Friday that the plaza had essentially become a homeless camp. Of the nine people at the camp when it was cleared, eight were homeless, city spokeswoman Mary Cashiola said.
Cashiola said there had recently been altercations and assaults at the camp. Also, members were bathing in public and were relieving themselves on the mall adjacent to the plaza.
The city has provided those at the camp with a secure location to house their belongings for a short time and referred them to the Community Alliance for the Homeless for services.
A statement from the city noted that Occupy Memphis was able to raise awareness to its cause.
“The City of Memphis commends them on their commitment to their cause and their perseverance, especially in light of this summer’s extreme temperatures,” the statement said.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Hamilton County officials on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit they filed against Occupy Chattanooga and nine individual protesters. The motion came on the same day that deputies evicted the group’s encampment.
The suit, filed in January, asked the court to declare that the county’s policies for use of public properties and grounds were constitutional. It also asked the judge to order the protesters to pay court costs.
The protesters asked that the case be dismissed, arguing that local governments are not allowed to use the federal courts for rulings on the validity of their ordinances.
In the protesters’ motion for dismissal, Occupy Chattanooga is described as “part of a nationwide and international movement of demonstrations aimed at calling attention to income inequality and irresponsible actions on the part of wealthy corporate actors.”
According to the court filings, protesters began camping out on the courthouse lawn near the beginning of November.
On Jan. 4, the Hamilton County Commission adopted a set of rules for the use of county property, including the courthouse lawn. It includes prohibitions on tables, chairs, grills and open fires, except under certain circumstances, and prohibitions on tents anywhere not designated as a campsite.
According to the county’s complaint, “The grounds of the Courthouse are carefully maintained and kept so as to preserve the property in an attractive and intact condition, readily available to all people who wish to see and enjoy it by their presence.”
The suit claims the rules for use of the grounds are “content-neutral;” that is, they apply equally to everyone and are not intended to single out Occupy protesters because of their political beliefs.
The rules do not establish any type of curfew for the property.
In asking the court to dismiss the case, attorneys for the protesters state, “If a local government could march into court whenever it passed a law to sue anyone potentially affected by a law in order to get a judgment of the law’s validity, the consequences would be troubling for the courts, the parties, and the administration of justice.”
Although attorneys for the county disagreed, on Monday they filed to dismiss the suit.
That motion stated that a change in circumstances made the lawsuit moot but did not say what those circumstances were.
In an interview on Tuesday, County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said the motion referred to the “relocation” of protesters’ tents. Deputies moved the tents to the adjacent sidewalk on Monday.
Protester Beth Foster said in an interview that members of Occupy Chattanooga will continue to have a presence near the courthouse but they are still working out the details.
Taylor said he would not speculate on what the county would do if protesters moved their tents back.
In Nashville on Tuesday, police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said that Occupy protester Christopher Humphrey was arrested for failure to appear in court for a trespassing charge unrelated to his protest activities.
Humphrey has been challenging a new state law intended to evict protesters from their camp on War Memorial Plaza near the state Capitol by spending several nights there. The law prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it.
Mumford said Humphrey had been charged with trespassing somewhere other than the plaza.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Occupy Nashville protesters are tempting police to arrest them as they challenge a new law meant to evict them from their camp near the state Capitol, said the House sponsor of the legislation signed by the governor.
The law prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it.
On Wednesday, two protesters wore camping tents as costumes and walked around the War Memorial Plaza saying the law criminalizes homelessness and its penalties are excessive.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Occupy Nashville protesters say they will continue challenging a new law intended to evict them from their camp near the state Capitol even though a fellow protester wasn’t arrested during enforcement of the law early Monday morning.
The law, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, prohibits camping on state property that is not specifically designated for it.
Christopher Humphrey, 24, was maintaining his vigil at the group’s camp on War Memorial Plaza when he said about 20 state troopers came onto the plaza around 4 a.m. Monday.
Humphrey said he was asked to come out of his tent. When he did, he said he stood in front of the tent and extended his arms to be handcuffed.
“The officer very carefully grabbed my arm, walked me about four paces … and said that I wasn’t being arrested,” Humphrey said. “That was disappointing to me because I knew that I was going to be arrested.”
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A municipal judge has cleared the way for prosecutors to proceed with a case against Occupy Murfreesboro protesters.
Murfreesboro City Court Judge Ewing Sellers on Thursday denied a motion to dismiss citations, based on protesters’ contention that the law violated First Amendment rights.
Occupy Murfreesboro attorneys Will York and Joan Hill argued the ordinance was overly broad and infringed upon the group’s right to speak freely and assembly peaceably, according to The Daily News Journal (http://on.dnj.com/yVxP8h).
The city’s lawyer, Adam Tucker, argued city government had a compelling interest in maintaining order on Civic Plaza.
Sellers said his ruling was guided by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that camping in a public park was not protected symbolic expression to raise awareness about homelessness.
Attorneys said they would explore a settlement.