County Evicts Occupiers From County Courthouse Lawn; County Withdraws Federal Lawsuit

Monday, March 19, 2012

A large contingent of officers from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and county parks and recreation swooped down on the longtime occupiers of the County Courthouse lawn on Monday afternoon. The dozen or so tents that had been set up on the lawn for several months were taken off in the unannounced strike.

The County Commission earlier had gone to Federal Court on Jan. 10 to seek to get a ruling evicting the protestors. But there had not yet been a ruling, and the county on Monday asked that the lawsuit be withdrawn "in light of changed circumstances rendering the petition moot."

The County Commission also passed new rules against overnight camping on certain county property on Jan. 4 and the state Legislature later passed a similar bill. 

In the raid around 2 p.m., the officers first put bags over nearby parking meters. Then they began carrying off the tents.

Normally, in the daytime there are few members of Occupy Chattanooga at the site. More assemble at night.

Officials noted it was time for the annual spring sprucing up of the courthouse lawn. Portions of the lawn are now bare where tents were placed or the protestors held their assemblies around campfires.

'The Chattanooga Police Department will by no means stop anyone from standing or sitting on sidewalks who is peacefully protesting. However, city code is clear that no one shall obstruct a sidewalk and there shall be no structures, tents, camps, or fires on city property," said Chattanooga Police spokesman Nathan Hartwig.

A number of protestors at the site were from out of town. 

Occupy Chattanooga had been camped on the courthouse lawn since Nov. 1, 2011.

Occupy Chattanooga officials said, "Occupiers were not given any warning. Protestors exited their tents to find a Hamilton County Sheriff's deputy standing in front of each tent. There were about 15 officers present to remove the camp. The occupiers were ordered away from the tents, not allowed to gather or touch any of their property. Deputies removed the tents, pallets, personal items and other property of the camp and placed it on the city-owned sidewalk in front of the courthouse. The tents were searched before deputies removed them, despite occupiers repeatedly telling deputies they did not consent to a search of their property."

Occupiers said they questioned Sheriff Jim Hammond and he referred all questions to Hamilton County Commission Chairman Larry Henry, stating that it was he who had ordered the eviction.

The Occupies said, "Hammond could not cite the law under which the eviction was taking place or produce any paperwork ordering the eviction.

"Occupiers contend that some property was damaged and lost during the eviction process. At least one lock on a tent was cut, some tent poles were snapped and two Sony radios are missing.

"Following the eviction, deputies and public works employees placed an orange plastic fence around the Occupy Chattanooga site and deputies remain on patrol around the courthouse to keep occupiers from re-entering the area.

"Shortly after the eviction, Occupy Chattanooga learned that the county had the same afternoon filed a motion to dismiss the federal lawsuit it had filed against the protestors, seeking the court's approval to remove the camp.

"Occupy Chattanooga condemns the county's actions and believes the county acted as it did because it knew it could not win the lawsuit on constitutional grounds. Occupy Chattanooga is consulting with its attorney, David Veazey and Public Citizen of Washington D.C., to determine what its next legal action will be.  "

A General Assembly was held at 5:30 Monday afternoon on the Hamilton County Courthouse steps. The General Assembly decided to remain in a 24-hour vigil on the Hamilton County Courthouse property. The next General Assembly will be Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.


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