Occupy Courtroom: Which cities have been sued for violating protesters’ rights?
Occupy Wall Street movement is marking its two-month anniversary this week as participants around the nation continue to protest inequality. Increasingly, the fight over equality in society is taking place on the legal front. In the past month, lawsuits have been filed against at least eight municipalities with three more reportedly on the verge. At issue isn't income disparity per se, but rather constitutional abridgment. Litigants say that city officials are attempting to unlawfully disrupt protests, amounting to alleged violations of free speech, assembly, and due process. Here's a look at which courtrooms around the nation are seeing these battles play out.
Jennifer Florence Dawson, et. al v. City of Dallas
The plaintiffs have filed a class-action lawsuit and gotten a temporary restraining order that forces the city to abide by a settlement agreement executed on Oct. 17.
The agreement stipulated that those involved in Occupy Dallas could maintain an overnight presence at a specifically identified public property to the southwest of Dallas City Hall so long as certain conditions were met, such as trash pickup, no tents, and no use of City Hall restroom facilities.
Several individuals are now suing the city because they have been threatened with imminent eviction. A hearing to consider the case further is expected to commence soon, although no date has yet been set.
Occupy Tucson v. The City of Tucson
The plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against the city of Tucson for abridging constitutional rights.
According to the complaint, the Tucson Police Department has issued at least 471 citations, each one punishable up to $1,000. The plaintiffs say that the prospect of $500,000 total in fines is meant to freeze out groups without resources and formal leadership structures and constitutes overly broad and unreasonable measures against constitutionally protected activity.
Occupy Tucson is seeking a temporary restraining order.
Joe Beasley, et. al v. City of Atlanta
A group of individuals, including former war veterans and a state senator, say in a lawsuit against the city that protests in Woodruff Park are protected free speech under the First Amendment.
The plaintiffs say that the mayor has issued an executive order permitting Occupy Atlanta to continue in the park, but that Atlanta police officers have been aggressively countering peaceful protests by erecting barricades, showing up in riot gear, and preparing to arrest those who remain in the park past 11 p.m. The group estimates that police have arrested 52 people already, a violation of federal statutes targeting content-based speech restrictions.
A judge is being asked to give injunctive relief against continued police activity meant to prohibit members of Occupy Atlanta remaining in Woodruff Park.
Occupy Sacramento vs. City of Sacramento
After more than 50 protesters were arrested in Sacramento for failing to pack up tents and disperse from Cesar Chavez Park across from City Hall, a group of protesters filed a lawsuit against the city, requesting a temporary restraining order from enforcing an 11 p.m. curfew.
A Superior Court judge turned down the motion last week, citing the failure of the petitioners to timely apply for a permit for use of the park for camping purposes.
The protesters are free to appeal the judgment, although the judge in the case has cautioned against doing so, saying the protesters are unlikely to succeed on their First and 14th Amendment claims because the curfew was “content neutral.”
Occupy Delaware v. City of Wilmington
Protesters sued the city on the basis that law enforcement violated a constitutional right to public assembly by imposing a $200 fee on marchers. The group of plaintiffs also cited word from police that they weren’t being permitted from using the city plaza because of “Patriot Act concerns.”
Last week, a Delaware Chancery Court judge granted a temporary restraining order in advance of a further hearing on the issue.
A city spokesperson responded by saying the city would like to work out a deal where the fee is waived and that protesters would be able to use two-thirds of the plaza for tents.
Occupy Cincinnati et. al v. Cincinnati et. al
Four members of Occupy Cincinnati say in a lawsuit that a decision by the city parks commission to ban gathering in public parks violates constitutional rights to speech and assembly.
The plaintiffs are targeting the city, various agencies, and the heads of the departments after facing more than 200 citations. They say that the fines and the threats of arrest have imposed a “chilling effect” and that members may fear "for their safety, liberty and economic consequences."
A judge is being asked to make a temporary and permanent order preventing the city from enforcing its parks ban. The group is also seeking compensatory damages.
Further legal action has been reported in Fort Myers, Fla., and Nashville. More lawsuits are said to being coming against Trenton, N.J., San Diego, and Asheville, N.C.