After troopers enforce curfew, Haslam administration faces trouble explaining policy

Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 10:05pm
By Steven Hale

[See related story: What happens with charges in wake of Occupy Nashville arrests remains in question]

Two weeks ago, few in Nashville, or the country at large, had heard much about the fledgling Music City wing of the Occupy Wall Street protests, Occupy Nashville.

After a well-attended, and widely covered, weekend rally a month ago, the group began occupying Legislative Plaza on Oct. 8, setting up tents and announcing plans to stay there indefinitely. But on Oct. 19, no more than two-dozen of the most devoted occupiers gathered between the columns of the War Memorial Auditorium. Hiding from the rain, but not the cold, they held a General Assembly and anxiously discussed ways to bolster their numbers and sustain the occupation through the coming winter.

The “movement” was trickling away. They needed a shot in the arm, as it were, and in the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 28, they got one, from an unlikely source.

On Thursday, the state’s Department of General Services had announced a new policy, which instituted an overnight curfew on Legislative Plaza and announced the state’s intention to begin enforcing a daytime permit requirement they claimed had always been in place (something neither City Paper reporters nor local lawyers could find references to in state code or rules). The confusion caused by competing statements from officials in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration made it unclear whether or not the curfew would be enforced that night. No matter when it went into effect, members of Occupy Nashville said they would pay no attention to it.

At around 3 a.m., troopers from the Tennessee Highway Patrol lined the plaza. The protesters, which at that time numbered around 50, were given 10 minutes to leave. Some of the group took advantage of the final chance to avoid arrest, moving to the city-owned sidewalks surrounding the plaza. And then a trooper, using a megaphone, spoke the words that galvanized the protesters and have since been rebuked by two judges.      

“Your time is up,” he said, signaling more than 70 more troopers to move in on 29 protesters, who sat with linked arms in the middle of the plaza.

After another round of arrests the following night, the count stopped at 55. Aided by the fact that two of those arrested and held were working journalists — Jonathan Meador of the Nashville Scene and Malina Shannon, a student photojournalist on a class assignment — the name, and Twitter hashtag, “Occupy Nashville” quickly found its way around the country and the world.

The movement, which has been criticized here and around the country for lacking a clear set of goals or demands, also gained a newfound, much simpler mission statement with broad, bipartisan support: the First Amendment. 

That constitutional issue has raised a series of questions about how the Haslam administration created and enforced policies in this case.

Last week U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger, responding to an ACLU-brought lawsuit against Haslam and other state officials, halted the arrests for the time being. Her order reinforced the rulings of Metro Night Court Judge Tom Nelson, who twice denied warrants for the protesters’ arrests and asserted that the state had no authority to authorize the curfew. 

Two straight no-shows by state troopers, in the days before the court hearing, and the state’s decision not to oppose the restraining order seemed to some observers like an acknowledgement that the newly imposed policy was on shaky legal ground. With litigation pending, state officials have been less inclined to open up about its formation.

In an Oct. 27 Facebook post, the same day the policy was announced, Occupy Nashville named Department of General Services Commissioner Steven Cates as the state official doling out the rules. Cates is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit against the state. According to Occupy Nashville, Cates called an attorney from the group’s legal team into a meeting with him and several other state officials and asked if the occupiers still had concerns about security on the plaza.

The THP is charged with Capitol security, and protesters had asked for help maintaining the peace on the plaza. When the attorney said that the protesters’ safety was still a concern, Cates informed the attorney that the state would be evicting the group and putting a curfew into place.

When asked to specify who was involved in the formation of the policy, state spokeswoman Lola Potter declined to name names.

“The leadership of General Services developed that policy as they do all policies with General Services,” she said, “but at this point with the pending litigation, we’re just not going to go any further than that. That’s what the lawyers have advised us to do.”

Cates’ office directed requests for comment back to Potter.

Sources within the administration have characterized the situation as a combination of “bad politics, bad communications and bad legal advice.”

Enforcement of the policy fell to the state’s Department of Safety and Homeland Security and Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who is also a defendant in the pending lawsuit. While he said he had no role in deciding the policy, in a press briefing the morning after the first round of arrests, he said it was his call to send in the troopers at 3 a.m. The governor had approved the policy and the operation, Gibbons said, but he gave the impression that he hadn’t spoken with Haslam directly, saying only that he had met with “members of the governor’s staff.” Haslam has since come out to defend the policy and its enforcement.

Gibbons was quick to put his name on the enforcement operation and has continued to defend his troopers’ actions, even in the case of Meador who was arrested despite identifying himself as a member of the media and slapped with a widely refuted public intoxication charge. Shannon’s arrest and the troopers’ rough treatment of her (her photography equipment was damaged and the zip-ties on her wrists had to be removed with the help of a nurse) have been largely ignored by comparison. Though it had been reported by several media sources, mention of it caught the governor by surprise on Tuesday.

The supposed impetus for the enforcement operation was concern for public safety and sanitary conditions at the Plaza. Gibbons acknowledged Occupy Nashville’s pleas for improved security at the plaza but said the eviction came because the state can’t “go out and, in effect, babysit protesters 24/7.”

If the state didn’t have the resources to ensure overnight security at the plaza — Gibbons is on record as saying the state is 200 to 300 troopers short of other Southern states — they certainly came up with the resources to empty it. More than 70 troopers took part in each curfew operation. The effort was also supported by the state’s Department of Correction, which provided approximately 12 officers and the bus used to transport those arrested. Safety Department spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said, however, that correction officers did not participate in the arrests of Occupy Nashville protesters.

Qualls declined to comment on whether or not troopers were brought in to assist in the operation from their posts in other cities, but told The City Paper that THP has 56 road troopers assigned to the Nashville District (which includes 12 counties), five of which are assigned to Davidson County. Another 20 troopers are on full-time Capitol duty. Witnesses said several troopers at the plaza Sunday night confirmed they’d come in from Memphis and claim to have seen troopers staying in a nearby hotel.

Although she reiterated the assertion of Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott, who said that no overtime had been paid for the operation, Qualls declined to comment on the cost of the operation, including any money spent to bring in extra troopers and put them up in downtown Nashville.

As for concerns about safety and sanitation, the veracity of claims made by the state about conditions on the plaza is still being debated. According to Gibbons, the “dynamics of the protest” changed in the days leading up to the eviction. Asked to specify what those new dynamics were, he referred simply to what he “read in the press.” 

Although the plaza falls under the state’s jurisdiction, Metro police officers (who, in some cases, were undercover) did respond to several complaints in the area the week arrests began. According to records provided by Metro police, there were two incidents involving the sale of marijuana, a report of sexual assault (a “forcible fondling” per the complaint) and two altercations between men, one which was briefly violent. Police described the number of incidents as neither high nor low for the area, but “average.”

While Haslam and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney, have made much of claims of protesters defecating on the Capitol grounds and of General Service workers having to clean up after them, those claims are in doubt. The day before the policy was announced, Safety Department spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals told The City Paper troopers were dispatched to the plaza after two reports of public urination and one of a “sex act” occurring in the area. No arrests were made.

Subsequently, The City Paper requested a list of all complaints made between the beginning of the occupation, Oct. 8, and the announcement of the policy, Oct. 27. Qualls said “the THP has no record of any complaints or incidents that occurred on the plaza.”

Potter said General Services had received phoned-in complaints. A request for a log of those complaints was still pending at press time.

Members of Occupy Nashville maintain that the troublemakers were homeless individuals, who often sleep in the plaza anyway and had stuck around to take advantage of the free food provided by the group. In multiple visits to the camp, The City Paper witnessed Occupy members (particularly women) leading cleanups of the plaza and imploring those present to leave if they possessed drugs or had been drinking.

When asked if the state would respond similarly to other situations where public urination and sex acts might have occurred, Gibbons said their primary concern was Capitol security.

For now, having declared Judge Trauger’s order a victory, members of Occupy Nashville have returned to the plaza, as they did after each night of arrests. What happens next depends on whether their lawyers can come to an agreement with those representing the state. If diplomacy fails, a preliminary injunction hearing is set for Nov. 21.

David Briley, one of three local attorneys representing Occupy Nashville, said at the initial hearing that the two sides got close to an agreement but were “derailed by minor issues.” He declined to be more specific about the reasons an agreement couldn’t be reached, as negotiations are still ongoing.

State Attorney William Marett, whom Briley said had been “very professional” thus far, did not respond to requests for comment.

Briley said, “The state needs to adopt a regulation that governs Legislative Plaza, and they need to do it in compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act,” which the lawsuit alleges was violated in the formation of the now suspended policy.

In defining a successful outcome for Occupy Nashville with regards to the lawsuit, Briley also illuminated what could be common ground for the protesters and those Americans who disagree with their stance on Wall Street and corporate greed.

“It needs to be consistent with Supreme Court rulings on the First Amendment,” said Briley, speaking of a hypothetical future policy. “That’s all our clients have ever wanted, and that’s what they will continue to ask for.”

17 Comments on this post:

By: pswindle on 11/5/11 at 10:22

This just shows that Haslam is not up to the job. He wants to appear strong like Scott of WI and John of Ohio, but they are no more than bullies. Haslam does not the difference. Poor thing!

By: govskeptic on 11/6/11 at 6:14

How enlightening, and the point is?

By: ghost7638ghost7... on 11/6/11 at 6:16

Haslam should change his name to Hilter. He will not get my vote in the next election.

By: tnav8or on 11/6/11 at 7:25

Being someone who has seen both sides up close and personal I find the distortion of the truth by both side to be unbelievable. The only true winner in this story, if you could call them a winner, is the press. They have sold more papers, garnered more air time and sold more advertisements. They are the only ones who haven't had their reputations damaged because no one is asking them to produce their sources or their facts, and God help us if we even suggest that, they wrap themselves in the constitution and scream violation of rights.
Lets talk about the losers for a minute, Occupy Nashville protesters are losing because they are being misled by the press that they are making a difference and they are being misled by their "financial" backers who are lying to them about why they are really there.The Department of General Services workers are losers in all this because they are understaffed and under paid and have to in addition to all their other duties go out and clean up after these people every day. When the protesters were moved off the plaza the first time there were 6 trucks and 2 dumpsters of debris left from the occupation. And finally all the tax paying citizens of the state of Tennessee are losers because in the end there will be a very large bill to pay for all this mess in clean up, security and legal fees and we will be stuck with that bill. It's time for Occupy Nashville to pack up and go home and save us all some money

By: waters on 11/6/11 at 7:57

justiceforisla.wordpress.com
Shame on Gov. Haslam and District Attorney Torry Johnson - what a mess they've created...AGAIN...Just look at how the MNPD and District Attorney Torry Johnson handled another one of their botched cases when they authorized a SWAT Unit to conduct surveillance, then brutally assault a decorated ARMY Combat Medic OIF Veteran and violently and brutally arrest his girlfriend, a former Gibson Guitar and White House Staffer under Pres. G.W. Bush staffer, based on a false police report that was never investigated by the MNPD Domestic Violence "Detectives". And it was Franklin based mediator Diane Marshall, who has a history of legally advising male clients to file restraining orders, who started this ordeal. Read the entire story at justiceforisla.wordpress.com.

By: simplesimon on 11/6/11 at 8:10

simplesimon I agree with Gov.Haslam with calling in the billy clubbers. statewide.Some tazing and dogs, and the old fire hose trick with ,hard rubber bullets and a good beat down of all those that would disagree with his policies. This civil disobedient crap cannot stand. It is just not right that the constitution would protect such a thing as a right to assemble, or freedom of speech when it threatens or implies to threaten his better than though 1 percent corporate cronies that have provided the many trickle down employment opportunities of minimum wage and 30 hour a week jobs to the many that would otherwise be working for them mom and pop cafe's that just didn't know how to run or operate a business. It was only right to bail out Goldman-Saks one hundred cents on the dollar with the tax payers money and to cut the medical care and pensions to pay for it. This entitlement crap is a budget buster, when you consider that after what we gave to the banks and the corporations. These urinating, free wild sex and degenerate protesters don't understand that it takes millions of dollars to run a corporation and without giving the banks their money back on those bad bets corporations couldn't borrow the funds they need to make investors profits. You go Gov. Haslam, you do it, teach 'em a lesson...

By: ratizbad on 11/6/11 at 1:53

Haslam is one of many corrupt officials in Davidson County offices.

By: Loner on 11/6/11 at 4:23

Gov. Bill Haslam panicked, it's just that simple.

How will this panicky guy act, if and when a real emergency occurs?

Didn't Haslam run for office as a "limited government" candidate? When it came down to dealing with a few peaceful protesters, Haslam opted for authoritarian, Big Brother governance.

Start the recall now, before this man kills people.

By: nash615 on 11/6/11 at 7:13

simplesimon, your attempts at sarcasm and parody need a bit of work.

I think the premise is funny, but you're overplaying the caricature a bit: most readers aren't going to believe that there are really still that kind of ignorant loud-mouthed redneck hillbilly jerk-offs who are that fascist, even in the middle of Tennessee.

I think you're on to something, though, so keep working at it!

By: macjedi on 11/7/11 at 9:43

HA HA! EAT IT, HASLAM. You are TOAST on this one. Police state for the LOSE.

By: Loner on 11/7/11 at 9:58

Try some line feeds (paragraph breaks) Simon...brevity is the soul of wit. For something to be funny, there has to be a grain of truth in it...according to George Bernard Shaw.

By: yucchhii on 11/8/11 at 11:42

yucchhii Why is it that people don't want to admit that "ALL" politicians are criminals? They are "ALL" pertcipating in the "DESTRUCTION" of AMERICA!! Haslam is just one of the many who are doing EXACTLY THAT! The voting system DOES NOT WORK!! If it did, "WE THE PEOPLE" OF THIS UNITED STATES would already have had control over "OUR" country a LOOOOOOOoooooooooong time ago!!! GO OCCUPY!!!!!!!

By: countofmontecristo on 11/8/11 at 8:59

Anyone who knows Bill Gibbons knew that he was utterly unqualitifed to be the State's Commissioner of Safety. Driver's licenses, maybe, but Highway Patrol, no. First, he is not, nor has he ever been, a law enforcement officer. Second, while he does have a law degree, he has no experience in criminal law. When he was appointed District Attorney in Shelby County back in 1996, he had no criminal law experience. When he left the D.A.'s office fifteen years later, he left with no criminal law experience. As D.A., he never once stepped into a courtroom to represent the state at trial or a hearing, to negotiate a guilty plea, or announce a settlement. Third, he is a narrow, shallow man in little interest in anything other than his ego. Fourth, he has no regard for people he perceives as lacking the power to either help him or hurt him. He is in no way a leader. A leader does not take a 32% raise while his people are limited to raises of 1 or 2 per cent. Fifth, he craves the approval ot other men who are richer or more powerful than he is. It was entirely predictable that he would misuse the Highway Patrol in an effort to curry favor with his master, Bill Haslam.

By: smiless on 11/9/11 at 12:30

xyモンクレールのダウンジャケットの最大の特徴は、モンクレール アウトレットフランス規格協会から最高品質の証、バーバリー アウトレット「4Flocons」が与えられているグースの産毛を使用しているという点です。ですから、モンクレール 激安保温性能に非常に優れ、軽さ、モンクレール レディース肌ざわりでも他のジャケットとは比べ物になりません。コーチ アウトレットモンクレールは製造から半世紀以上たっているため、コーチ バッグ長年のモノ作りの経験で、ベルスタッフ アウトレットダウンウェアの各部位に最適な産毛の量コーチ トートバッグが1g単位で決められているそうです。モンクレール ダウンジャケットは、職人の技によって軽やかで温かく、coach アウトレット包み込まれるような着心地だからこそ、コーチ 財布半世紀以上もプレミアムベルスタッフ ジャケットダウンジャケットの代名詞として君臨し続けているバーバリー バッグのでしょうね。 国王室御用達としコーチ ハンドバッグても知られる世界有数のブランド「バーバリー コート」。バーバリーは若者から年配の方まで、トリーバーチ フラットシューズまた男女を問わずファンが多いのが特徴ですが、トリーバーチ バッグセンスの良い気品さと、実用的な機能性を兼ね揃えているところがコーチ ポピーバッグ人気の秘密のようです。バーバリーの流行にながされるベルスタッフことのない確固としたポリシーこそが、まさしくブランドとして「バーバリーがバーバリー バッグたる」由縁であり、トリーバーチ アウトレットが私たちのこころをつかんで離さない最大の魅力モンクレール メンズではないでしょうか・・・ トリーバーチ ベルトは、ニューヨークのノリータ生まれのブランドで、アメリカのハリウッドセレブをはじめ、 トリーバーチ 店舗 世界のセレブたちに大人気のブランドです。特に、トリーバーチ ショルダーバッグ、ラバーシューズやトリーバーチ トートバッグなどの人気は高くて、海外のファッション誌やゴシップ誌トリーバーチ 財布などでセレブたちが履いている靴として掲載されてコーチ ショルダーバッグいたりします。

By: pepawjoe on 11/11/11 at 8:49

Gov Haslam, and his high paid Cabinet members, are simply in their Jobs for the $$MONEY" PERIOD!
Mr Haslam didn't ask if it was approiate to give these state positions a bubble raise in salaries that are far to high to start with. Mr Haslam had several debts to pay off. So he simply used his self imposed power to raise the pay, with total disregard for the "TAXPAYERS" tax funds. Though many State Government's were and still are hurting to provide the funds for much needed services for the Citizens of Tennessee, Mr Haslam thought of and provided taxdollars for his eleite Cabinet appointees as Priority One.
Mr Haslam beleives in Mr Haslam, and as lomng as he has a blank checkbook at his disposal, "We, the People" haven't seen anything yet!

By: tgs on 11/18/11 at 7:07

1941年、コーチ アウトレットアメリカはニューヨークのマンハッタンにてマイルス・カーンコーチバッグ激安、リリアン・カーン夫妻達の皮革職人による家族経営がCOACH アウトレットの始まりです。もともとは丈夫な野球のグローブを参考にカバンを作成していたので、激安コーチバック 使えば使うほど味の出る皮(レザー)コーチ バッグを主な商品としていましたが、元トミー・ヒルフィガーでデザインコーチ 財布 激安 やマーケティングを担当していたリード・クラッコフを迎え、コーチ トートバッグ実用性のみならずファッション性の高い製品へと近年変貌を遂げました。コーチ ハンドバッグ今ではすっかり定番となった、「シグネチャー」シリーズの登場により、コーチ ポピーバッグ売り上げを伸ばし続けている老若男女問わず愛されているブランドですコーチ 時計。COACH製品は高い技術で製造され、コーチ サングラス素材にもこだわり、サイズ、形、ポケット、コーチ ショルダーバッグストラップは機能性を十分に考え綿密に計算され、コーチ レザーバッグ内側のポケットなどの内装部分も一貫性を保つためすべて同じ皮で作られますコーチ 財布。以前はNYキャリアウーマンの代名詞でしたがコーチ 長財布、最近日本の女性にに大人気のコーチ ブレスレット。渋谷のフラッグシップショップなどコーチ ベルト、日本市場の好調を受け、 コーチ バッグ アウトレット 大幅増益が見込まれていますコーチ店舗

By: tgs on 11/18/11 at 7:08

トリーバーチは、アメリカの人気女性デザイナーで、トリーバーチ アウトレット2004年2月にアメリカ・ニューヨークのトリーバーチ靴ノリータ地区にフラッグショップ"Tory Burch"をオープンしました。トリーバーチ バッグその後瞬く間にハリウッドスターをはじめ多くセレブから熱い支持を受け、トリーバーチ 通販今や全世界の幅広い女性から注目を浴びています。トリーバーチ 財布(Tory Burch)は、世界のトップモデルやセレブな方たちがこぞって愛用しているトリーバーチ ハイヒールことでも有名で、その中でもトリーバーチ シューズ、サンダル、トリーバーチ トートバッグなどは、すでに日本でもトリーバーチ ショルダーバッグセレクトショップなどを中心に大人気になっています。トリーバーチ ベルト女性らしい華やかさを感じさせる色使いや光沢感を絶妙に醸し出していますトリーバーチ フラットシューズ。今、アメリカ中で大人気のトリーバーチ 店舗。パリス・ヒルトンや二コール・リッチー、リンジー・ローハンなど多数のセレブにも大人気で、トリーバーチ 激安日本でもじわじわと人気が出て来ています。トリーバーチ 靴 激安フラットシューズ人気の今、トリーバーチは見逃せないブランドです。