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Idaho OKs Seizure of Protesters’ Property

BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Occupy Boise sued Gov. Butch Otter, claiming a new law aimed at them allows the state to seize private property without a warrant, without probable cause and without suspicion of a crime.

Occupy Boise was formed in October 2011, a month after the protest movement began on Wall Street in New York City.

On Nov. 5, 2011, about 50 Boise residents began pitching tents on land in front of the city's old Ada County courthouse, in view of the Idaho Statehouse.

Members of Occupy Boise said in their federal complaint that they erected the tent city because conventional methods such as marches, rallies and public meetings did not "appear as effective as the Occupy vigil encampments that were taking place throughout the world."

Lead plaintiff Edward Watters says Occupy Boise took every precaution to "preserve health, safety and peaceful assembly" at the site, including sending a letter to the Idaho Department of Administration, notifying it of its intentions; meeting with the department's director and co-defendant Teresa Luna, to discuss logistics; meeting with Brig. Gen. Alan Gayhart, of the Idaho National Guard; writing a 42-page operational manual for the Occupy Boise vigil; sending letter to the Idaho State Police, providing all-hours contact information for Occupy Boise representatives and attorneys; and holding many other meetings to discuss meal, toiletry and power plans.

In reaction, the complaint states, Idaho House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke introduced a bill on Jan. 18 to prohibit camping on state land, and authorize government agents and contractors to "take and destroy private property without notice or hearing."

Bedke, a Republican, told The Associated Press that "the right place for people to exercise free speech is on the Capitol Steps," not in a "tent city."

House Bill 404 was passed into law on Feb. 17. It gives authorities the right to disperse the protesters and seize their possessions.

H.B. 404 states, in part: "State agency personnel or contractors may remove any unauthorized personal property used to camp or while camping in violation of the provisions of this section. Personal property removed pursuant to this section shall be considered litter and shall be disposed of by persons tasked with enforcing this section. Such authorized persons seizing or disposing of such property shall be immune from legal liability for the seizing and disposing of such property."

Those possessions include two large military tents for political and general assemblies, woodstoves, a kitchen and dining area, counters and cabinetry, a pantry with donated food and supplies, a "free store" with warm clothing, footwear and other goods, tents containing a library, art center and medical treatment, and an area for religious worship.

There is also a communications tent, with computer equipment, a wireless transceiver and other electronics.

Occupy Boise members say the total value of onsite property is about $10,000.

They claim H.B. 404 violates the 1st, 4th, 5th and 14th Amendments: that it permits unreasonable seizure of private property without a warrant, probable cause or suspicion of a crime.

Authorizing the seizure of private property without just compensation "violates the protection against takings of private property guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution," the complaint states.

"The defendants also can take and destroy private property without any opportunity for a hearing, either before of after the government seizure and destruction," according to the complaint. "The complete lack of any hearing to protect private property violates the procedural due process guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and wants HB 404 enjoined as "unconstitutional, void, without effect and unenforceable."

They are represented by Brian Walker, of Obsidian Law.

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