LOS ANGELES (CN) – Five Occupy Los Angeles protestors have filed suit against Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s alleged “unilateral action” to quell protests at the camp around City Hall.
Villaraigosa announced that the city would end Occupy LA just after midnight on Nov. 28, even though the city had allowed protestors to camp for 56 days. The tent city remains intact after protestors defied the order, and they now seek redress in the federal court.
Lead plaintiffs Katherine Know-Davies, Jesse Dotson, Matt Ward, Mario Brito and James Lafferty say the mayor and police have “flagrantly ignored” a city council resolution that recognized the rights of protestors to assemble in public spaces.
The protestors say such “arbitrary and capricious action” is a violation of their civil rights under the First and 14th Amendments.
Los Angeles has also inconsistently used two provisions of the city’s “anti camping” municipal code, “permitting the whim of the police to be the sole determinant of when the ordinance is applied and when it is ignored,” according to the complaint.
To highlight the alleged double standard, protestors note that “Twilight” fans were allowed to camp before the showing of the second movie at Westwood Village.
Hundreds camped out in Exposition Park for free medical services and families were allowed to camp on Skid Row for free school supplies, the lawsuit states.
“Each of these ‘camping’ events is highly publicized in the media, takes place in highly-trafficked areas and could not possibly be an unnoticed and unintentional exception to enforcement of the municipal code,” the complaint states.
“The OLA ‘assembly’ on the south lawn of City Hall did not require a permit pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code §103.111. This section was adopted following a successful challenge to the City’s prior permitting scheme at the time of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. An ‘assembly’ is defined as ‘any stationary formation, assembly, or gathering for the purpose of expressive activity upon any public street, sidewalk, alley, or other public place, which does not comply with normal or usual traffic regulations or controls … ‘ The authority to grant or deny permission for activities covered by LAMC §103.111 rests with the board of police commissioners, not the mayor’s office.”
The protestors say that they “responded to all requests to conform their activities on health and safety issues” and that the city council even passed a resolution to let the protest continue.
“There is no doubt that the council was approving camping on the City Hall lawn as part of OLA’s exercise of their First Amendment rights,” the complaint states. “The city council was well aware of the manner in which plaintiffs and others with OLA were exercising their First Amendment rights at the time that the resolution was passed. Moreover, the resolution referenced similar ‘Occupy’ expressive encampments around the country. … The council recognized that ‘the ‘Occupy’ demonstrations are a rapidly growing movement with the shared goal of urging U.S. citizens to peaceably assemble and occupy public space in order to create a shared dialogue by which to address the problems and generate solutions for economically distressed Americans.”
Mayor Villaraigosa was “required to act on the resolution no later than October 24,” and his office has already approved the law, the protestors claim.
Only the city council can amend or rescind an existing resolution, the complaint says.
“While the mayor has the authority to enforce ordinances under the city charter and administrative code, that authority is necessarily constrained by the council’s express authority to adopt resolutions modifying or suspending city ordinances, rules and regulations,” according to the complaint. “The mayor could have vetoed the resolution passed at the beginning of October to designate City Hall’s south lawn as a location where OLA could remain in tents as part of the peaceable exercise of their First Amendment rights. He did not do so. Mayor Villaraigosa’s pronouncement ending Occupy LA is an ultra vires act in excess of his mayoral authority under the city charter and administrative code and, therefore, is null and void.”
The protestors seek an injunction against the city for civil rights violations. They are represented by Carol Sobel of Santa Monica, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Villaraigosa’s spokesman Peter Sanders told Courthouse News: “While we are aware that a complaint has been filed, we have not been served with it or advised that a hearing has been scheduled. We are, however, confident that our position would prevail in court.”