CINCINNATI (CN) - Occupy Cincinnati claims the city has fined its members more than $22,000 in unconstitutional citations for exercising their right to free speech - without a permit. The citations came for continuing their protest in a city park after hours.
In their federal complaint, Occupy Cincinnati and four of its members say the city's actions put them "in fear of the consequences of engaging in protected speech by the threat of citation or arrest."
Occupy Cincinnati's protest began with a rally at Cincinnati's Fountain Square on Oct. 8 that lasted until 1 a.m., when its permit expired. At that time the protesters "were warned by officers from defendant Cincinnati Police Department that Fountain Square was closed for the night, and that members were subject to arrest or citation if they remained," according to the complaint.
Despite the warning, many people stayed at Fountain Square until past 6 a.m., but were not arrested or issued citations. The protest then moved to Piatt Park, a city park that is closed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., under Park Board rules that predated the protest.
As night fell on Oct. 9, police warned the protestors that if they did not leave the park they would be arrested or fined. Twenty protestors remained, and at 11:30 p.m., "officers of CPD proceeded to issue criminal citations to those members of Occupy Cincinnati who remained in Piatt Park," the complaint states.
"The Occupy Cincinnati members fully and peacefully cooperated with the CPD officers, lining up in an orderly fashion, presenting identification, and submitting to photographing by police on site at Piatt Park. No member of Occupy Cincinnati was arrested or removed from Piatt Park, and the members remained in the park peacefully, carrying on political discussions, wearing expressive clothing, and displaying signs containing slogans and other information about economic and political issues for which the member sought redress.
"Each citation for a violation of P.B.R. 21 [Park Board Rule 21] carries a fine of $105, plus court costs," the complaint states.
Two days later, as protests continued, the group applied to the Park Board, but was denied a permit to stay past the park's closing hour of 10 p.m.
The same pattern of police warnings and eventual issuance of citations continued for several days, although on Oct. 15, Occupy Cincinnati acceded to a request from a couple who asked them to leave so they could "make use of Piatt Park as setting for a portion of their wedding festivities."
However, Occupy Cincinnati adds: "On the night of October 15, 2011, no police officers entered the park at any time while the wedding party was present, despite the fact that the wedding went on until approximately 11:30 p.m. No warnings or citations were issued to any member of the wedding party. Only after the wedding ended and the participants departed, did CPD officers arrive at Piatt Park and repeated the now familiar ritual."
The plaintiffs sued the City of Cincinnati, its Police Department and police chief, its Board of Park Commissioners and parks director.
Occupy Cincinnati claims "the threat of arrest, citation, and imposition of fines has imposed a 'chilling effect,' whereby individual members of Occupy Cincinnati and others have feared for their safety, liberty and economic consequences that may be imposed should they choose to exercise fundamental rights of freedom of expression, assembly and of the press."
They want an injunction allowing them to protest in Piatt Park as late as they like, and enjoining enforcement of Park Board Rule 21 - and their permit.
They are represented by Jennifer Kinsley.