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Why Did Phoenix

Drop Occupy Charges?

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An Oct. 15 protestor states her reason for attending Occupy Phoenix.
In Their Motion To Dismiss, The City Of Phoenix Tacitly Supports Occupiers Yet Defends Police Actions To Arrest Them On Oct. 15


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

June 1, 2012 — Following months of uncertainty, a contingent of the original Occupy Phoenix protesters finally found closure and a level of vindication Wednesday when trespassing charges stemming from the Oct. 15 occupation of Margaret T. Hance Park were dropped.

But instead of simply doing an about face and admitting that the prosecution of these occupiers was not in the public interest, the City of Phoenix constructed a wordy, asinine motion in attempt to justify the litigious circus it put on for the past several months.

On Oct. 15, 2011, the first day of Occupy Phoenix, the protest began at Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Phoenix. Following some discussion amongst the thousand or so attendees, the movement eventually decided to move to Margaret T. Hance Park in the early evening.

Later that night, Phoenix police officers began notifying the members of the crowd that they would be forcibly removed from the park if they did not leave by the 10 p.m. closing time. Despite the warning, several protesters would not abandon their posts and held fast past the deadline.

Police arrested 45 protesters that night and booked them into the Fourth Avenue Jail on charges of criminal trespassing.  

Those charges have now been dropped, thanks in large part to a motion to dismiss filed by the City of Phoenix.

"This did seem like vindication," said arrested protester Patrick Solomon.

But the dismissal affects less than half of the occupiers arrested that night. Of the 45 people arrested, eight pled out during the initial stay in jail, and another 17 eventually pled out over the next several months of litigation.

All in all, the motion to dismiss charges affects 20 of the original 45 protesters.

The decision to dismiss charges is a curious one. How is the City of Phoenix going to justify the expenses it took on to jail and prosecute these protesters over the past several months?

How much did it cost to dispatch 200 cops in riot gear at 2 a.m. in order to round up 45 ne'er-do-wells? City officials told the Phoenix New Times and Arizona Republic in October 2011 that the cost was about $200,000, although some disputed that figure and estimated it to be higher. Surely, once the lawyers got involved the cost to the city blossomed.

After spending so much time and effort fighting for convictions (10 trials over seven months), did the City of Phoenix ultimately decide to jump ship and play the magnanimous loser?

Not quite.

According to protester Janet Higgins, the prosecutor in the case seemed to be fighting a losing battle. He seemed overmatched by the 11 lawyers, led by Jim Belanger and Bruce Feder, representing the occupiers pro bono at the last three court appearances, she said.

But the motion to dismiss the charges seems to point to a more high-minded reason for dropping the charges.

After requesting the dismissal of the charges against Higgins, the city’s motion stated, "This country was founded on protest. Indeed, in 1773, a group of angry colonists led by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others disguised themselves as Native Americans, boarded the ships in Boston Harbor on December 16th. We call that the Boston Tea Party."

The document goes on to describe the Bonus Army fiasco of 1932 in which President Herbert Hoover and General Douglas MacArthur used tanks to dispel veterans seeking early pension pay.

It is a nice little history lesson, but what is the point? Is the document trying to associate the occupiers with these seemingly justifiable protest movements?

"I am just relieved," said Pell. "I knew the charges would be dropped or we would be found not guilty; that was my goal. I am still angry, though, because I feel like they got away with arresting us and violating our civil rights."

It would appear that the motion supports this supposition, based on the way it connects the occupiers to celebrated protesters like Samuel Adams.

In that case, according the document, the Occupy Phoenix protesters were justified in their actions on Oct. 15, 2011 and received unfair charges, right?

Think again. While the first half of the document praises the civil disobedience of the Occupy protesters, the second half justifies the actions of the City of Phoenix and Phoenix Police.

According to the document, "In Phoenix, the protesters were not violent. The police were not violent. Here, the protesters were in a park that has closing hours set by the City of Phoenix Parks Board. After the police informed the protesters that the park was closed and after giving them ample time to leave the park, a number of people did not leave…"

The document continues to reiterate the same ideas, highlighting the fact that the police were enforcing the park’s closing time and not infringing on protesters' rights to hold a rally.

So, what is the point of this schizophrenic document?

I mean, obviously, it succeeded in its goal to have the criminal trespassing charges dropped, but what is its purpose in a larger context?

It argues for two diametrically opposed sides. In this case, either the protesters were right or the city of Phoenix was right.

It seems that after months of flushing city of Phoenix money and resources down the drain in a show of ham-fisted, authoritarian might, the city finally realized it was fighting a losing battle with no real end-game.

Even if prosecutor Aaron Carreon-Ainsa did manage to gain a conviction, it would have been a hollow victory.

The beginning of the motion says it all, "After conviction, the State would have requested that the time spent in jail be the sentence."

Are they serious?

It is as if city of Phoenix officials looked at the Occupiers — many of whom were protesting wasteful government spending and corruption — and decided to show them what wasteful government spending and corruption really looked like.

Job well done, city of Phoenix.

Wayne Schutsky is a freelance writer living in Phoenix.
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