Occupy Chattanooga members not breaking law, officials say

Occupy Chattanooga members not breaking law, officials say

November 3rd, 2011 by Andrew Pantazi and Naomi Jagoda in News

November 01, 2011.Captain Roddy of Chattanooga Law Enforcement talks with members of Occupy Chattanooga in front of the Hamilton County Court on Tuesday night. Roddy tried to keep the mood light with a few jokes and even returned a high five of one of the protesters.

Photo by Alex Washburn /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you support the Occupy" protests?"

Occupy Chattanooga has found a home -- for now.

Originally, two Occupy Chattanooga protesters, Heidi Davis and Landon Howard, decided they would sleep on the lawn in front of the City Council Building in, what they thought was, disregard to city law.

They expected to be arrested, and they planned to use the arrest to challenge a city law regarding park curfews in court.

Instead, they weren't arrested.

In an interview, City Attorney Mike McMahan said that, off the top of his head, he didn't think it was illegal to camp on the lawn.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, said they're not doing anything wrong.

"As long as they're abiding by the law they're fine," he said.

The group camped on Lindsay Street after speaking at a Chattanooga City Council meeting Tuesday night where they weren't granted permission to stay indefinitely at Ross's Landing. Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said he would enforce the city's 10:30 p.m. curfew at public parks.

"They said no to our space, so we shared their space," one of the protesters wrote on a sign Wednesday.

Councilman Peter Murphy said the City Council has to make sure that the parks are being used for their primary purposes: recreation.

Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy

"We have to balance the interests of the parks' recreational uses with those who would like to use that place for free speech," he said. "They are viewing their right to assemble and free speech as being paramount and not susceptible to being balanced against other interests. That's not what the Constitution says as interpreted by the Supreme Court."

On the lawn, the group amassed food and supplies for a long-term stay. For food, the group had banana bread, hot chili, chips and cheese dip, orange juice, Cheez-Its, granola bars, cookies, muffins, trail mix and biscuits.

"Loads of carbs," said Miles Dougherty, a baker and protester.

Although only two protesters originally planned to sleep on the lawn, about a half-dozen protesters joined them Tuesday night after Chattanooga police officers said they weren't going to arrest the protesters.

Chattanooga police Officer Mark Shelton told the group that the officers were there to ensure the protesters' safety.

"Do you have a cellphone to call us if you need us?" he asked the group Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Murphy said that when a group protests, it's the city's job to protect members.

"The city has an obligation to provide some level of security, particularly with protests," he said. "We've had extremist groups come to our city where we had to pull many, many police officers to ensure that the participants can exercise their constitutional rights."

The group eventually agreed to make the lawn an official home base.

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