Occupy Tucson Faces $500,000 in Fines
TUCSON (CN) - Occupy Tucson says in a constitutional complaint that the city illegally pushed them out of one downtown park with threats of mass arrest and continues to issue expensive citations to protesters camped out in another park. Police have issued at least 471 citations since the occupation began Oct. 15, each one punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
Occupy Tucson and seven people sued the city, the Tucson Police Department, Mayor Bob Walkup and other officials in Federal Court, alleging violations of the state and federal constitutions.
U.S. District Judge Cindy Jorgenson denied the group's request for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction late Tuesday, finding that the city had not been served and had not had a chance to respond to the charges.
The injunction would bar Tucson from enforcing curfew and permit ordinances at three public parks in Tucson's modest downtown financial and government hub.
Protesters told Courthouse News on Tuesday that police officers continue show up at the group's main encampment every night around 10 to issue citations to anyone who refuses to leave, sometimes several times a night.
Tucson police issued approximately 420 criminal misdemeanor citations to 96 protesters, from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1, according to the complaint.
Officers issued another 51 citations from Nov. 2 to Nov. 8, according to police statistics.
Each violation carries a maximum fine of $1,000 in Tucson City Court.
One of the named plaintiffs, Samuel Agger, says he has been ticketed more than 30 times.
The group's volunteer attorneys say that city ordinances imposing a 10:30 p.m. curfew in public parks and requiring groups of more than 200 to have a permit are overly broad, unreasonable and could easily be waived to accommodate the occupation.
They say that expensive reservation fees and insurance requirements tend to freeze out groups without resources and formal leadership structures.
Occupy Tucson says city officials have consistently refused to waive permit requirements and closing times, and offered them no alternatives.
"Occupy Tucson has made every effort to accommodate the city while carrying on with their protected expression to no avail," attorney Paul Gattone in Tuesday statement on the group's website. "We were forced to go to the federal court in order to defend our clients' free speech rights."
The protesters want the city enjoined from enforcing permit and curfew ordinances at Armory Park, Veinte De Agosto Park and on the grounds of the Main Library.
"Absent relief by this court, plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm," the complaint states. "Plaintiffs' speech and petition rights - and in particular their ability to convey their message effectively to the public - will be violated and abridged. Plaintiffs also face additional citations, fines and physical arrest if they continue to take part in constitutionally protected speech on city property."
Occupy Tucson began in Armory Park on Oct. 15.
Late last week, police told protesters to move to a different park or face arrest.
"At approximately 10:30 p.m., defendant [Tucson Police Chief Roberto] Villeseñor appeared at Armory Park with more than 80 Tucson Police Officers acting under his direction and control," the complaint states. "Defendant Villaseñor informed plaintiffs that 'plans had changed' and that plaintiffs had to clear Armory Park in one hour by order of defendant [Acting City Manager Richard] Miranda. Defendant Villaseñor also informed plaintiffs that anyone remaining after that time would be arrested and taken into custody."
The city said in a statement that it cleared Armory Park to prepare for two events planned for the weekend.
Occupy Tucson moved to Veinte De Agosto Park, a small grassy spot on Congress Avenue across from the Pima County Superior Court, whose main attraction before the occupation was a large statute of Mexican revolutionary hero Pancho Villa. Tents and protesters filled the park late Tuesday.
Occupiers said the number of people who stay overnight changes based on the weather and the day or the week, with the camp swelling on the weekends.
"Our population fluctuates," said Eric Williams, who called himself a "24/7 occupier." "We have more people here on the weekend because people have jobs."
Though not named in the lawsuit, Williams told Courthouse News he has been ticketed 15 times.
"Plaintiffs desire to engage in constitutionally protected activity 24 hours a day in a public space within the center of Tucson," the complaint states. "Armory Park, Veinte De Agosto Park and the Main Library's grounds of Jácome Plaza are the logical locations for their actions."
The plaintiffs are represented by volunteer lawyers Paul Gattone and Douglas Keenan, lead attorneys for the Occupy Tucson Legal Working Group.