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Magistrate again refuses Haslam's attempt to arrest Occupy protesters

October 31st, 2011 9:57 am by Staff Report

Magistrate again refuses Haslam's attempt to arrest Occupy protesters

NASHVILLE — Tennessee's governor and his administration have twice sent state troopers to handcuff and haul away Occupy Nashville protesters camped out just steps away from the Capitol. And twice, a relatively obscure local official refused to throw them in jail.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly asked Albany's mayor last weekend to begin enforcing the 11 p.m. curfew at a park where the protesters have set up camp. Mayor Jerry Jennings declined.
Demonstrators are camping out in public parks in cities across the country, protesting against what they see as corporate greed and inequities in the American economy. Cities are dealing with the differently, some trying to work with protesters to leave peacefully, while others have sent in police to arrest them.
Under Tennessee state law, a judicial commissioner determines if there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. That official in this case has set the demonstrators free, despite Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's efforts.
The magistrate, Tom Nelson, says state officials have no authority to set a curfew requiring the protesters to clear out or face arrest.
"The magistrate's position is sort of a safety valve to prevent overzealous officers from putting people in jail for no reason," Nashville attorney Jim Todd said. He said it's extraordinarily rare when a magistrate refuses to sign off on an arrest warrant. But he supported Nelson's decision, saying he believes the safety valve worked.
In Albany, Occupy protesters have pitched tents in a city park across the street from the state Capitol. Cuomo has been targeted by the demonstrators for opposing an extension of a temporary tax on people earning more than $200,000 per year. And he wants them out.
Jennings said removing the group would be more trouble than it was worth.
"Some of the governor's people were pretty firm about our not doing this, letting them stay in the park, but basically, we had allowed this before," Jennings told the New York Post. "My counsel said we'd be opening ourselves up to civil liability if we forced them out."
He added that he believed Albany's left-leaning District Attorney, David Soares, sympathized with the protesters.
"My understanding is he spoke to the Albany police and told them he wouldn't prosecute," Jennings told the newspaper.
In Nashville, a 10 p.m. curfew on the Legislative Plaza was only instituted on Thursday, after protesters had already camped there for about three weeks.
For two nights, state troopers rounded up and handcuffed demonstrators, only to see them released.
The heavy-handedness may have backfired as protesters said they were galvanized by what they saw as an attack on their First Amendment right to assembly. New people showed up to protest. And even conservative bloggers who disagreed with the protesters' goals of ending corporate personhood and removing money from politics were defending their right to demonstrate.
On Saturday night, protesters prepared for a third night of arrests but were greeted by only a single trooper on patrol who made no move against them.
On Sunday, a tent was back on the plaza and protesters said they intend to continue challenging the curfew, both by occupying the space and requesting an injunction in court.
Safety Department spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals will not say whether the troopers plan to continue the arrests, saying only, "The curfew remains in effect and we urge the protesters to adhere to it."

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