Occupy Atlanta Trial Recap
By Scott Brown, Staff Writer
(APN) ATLANTA — Over fourteen months after Occupy Atlanta protesters set up camp in downtown Woodruff Park, the fifty-two people who were arrested the night of October 25, 2011, for refusing to leave the park, finally had their day in court.
The defense team of ten volunteer lawyers, headed by attorney Mawuli Davis, have spent the past year setting up a defense for the arrestees, and had days earlier served subpoenas on Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and four other city officials, to appear in Court. The City was still fighting the subpoenas when trial began on Monday, December 17, 2012.
The first half of Monday, December 17, was devoted to hearing motions, during which the defendants grew restless. State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), one of the arrestees, came up with the idea to march on the Atlanta City Hall during the break for lunch.
Once the time came, Occupiers grabbed signs and marched down the street to City Hall where they filled the lobby in front of the security gate chanting, “Mayor Reed you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!”
Security informed the Occupiers that signs could not be brought into the building, so protesters left their signs and slowly filed through the metal detector. Once all the Occupiers had assembled in the main hall, they marched to the second floor office of the Mayor.
Sen. Fort approached the Mayor’s secretary and asked for an audience with the Mayor, to which the secretary repeatedly replied, “He’s not available.”
“He’s not here, or he’s not available?” the senator asked, increasingly irritated.
After a pause, she continued saying, “He’s not available.”
The frustration of the protesters–who were in Court facing charges stemming from an executive order rescinded by Mayor Kasim Reed, that had previously allowed them to camp in Woodruff Park at night–grew until the group of more than thirty protesters began angrily chanting, “We’d like to see the Mayor!”
Security and office staff tried to no avail to quiet the protestors, but their objections were not audible over the deafening shouts. After the tense standoff outside the Mayor’s office, the Occupiers headed back towards the courthouse.
Back in court, Atlanta Municipal Court Chief Judge Crystal Gaines began hearing guilty pleas from defendants who did not wish to fight the charges. Most of these defendants either entered the Restorative Justice program or plead nolo contendere.
Those who plead nolo contendere received suspended sentences of one thousand dollar fines, while defendants who entered the Restorative Justice program were required to complete dozens of hours of community service, as well as submit to drug tests and appear before the Restorative Justice board. After nearly thirty defendants made pleas, court was adjourned for the day.
The morning of Tuesday, December 18, 2012, the remaining twenty-eight defendants filed into the courtroom, and, as they were beginning to take their seats, a police officer entered the Court and called the name of one of the defendants. When that defendant stood up, the officer turned him against the wall and handcuffed him.
There was an instant outcry from the other defendants and supporters as numerous people jumped up and began filming the arrest. As it turned out, the defendant had an arrest warrant for failing to appear at a previous court date in Atlanta while he was jailed in Chicago, Illinois, for charges resulting from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) protests there earlier this summer.
After a recess for lunch, the City Solicitor, Raines Carter, began the prosecution by calling former Atlanta Deputy Police Chief Calvin Moss to the stand. The prosecution asked him various questions about the night of the eviction, primarily focusing on the alleged public safety concerns that purportedly led to Mayor Reed’s decision to rescind the original executive order.
When the defense began their cross-examination they focused on questions related to an announcement over the park public address (PA) system and the safety hazards Chief Moss claimed he had personally seen in the park, which he said included a generator, propane heaters, a broken electrical box, extension cords, and “open flame.”
At one point, Davis began asking about surveillance of the park and informants, to which Moss responded, “I wouldn’t call them informants; I would call them sources of information.”
When asked if the park was under 24 hour surveillance, Chief Moss replied by saying, “I wouldn’t call it surveillance, I’d call it constant police watch.”
The defendants burst into a muffled blend of laughter and furor at each further prevarication by the witness.
Davis asked who was in charge of collecting intelligence on Occupy Atlanta, to which Moss replied, “The Department of Homeland Security.”
As the testimony continued, Moss revealed the Atlanta Police Department (APD) had a plan for the eviction of the park weeks prior to the October 25, 2011, arrests called the Occupy Atlanta Plan of Action.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, in pre-trial negotiations the City had claimed that this and other documents did not exist. Judge Gaines then ordered Carter to provide the document to the defense.
After Moss was released, the prosecution called their next witness, the arresting officer of two of the defendants. When questioned by Carter, the officer was able to successfully identify the two protestors he had arrested, but upon cross-examination the officer testified that without being shown photographs of his arrestees by the prosecution just a few days prior, he would have been unable to identify the defendants he had arrested. The charges against the two protesters arrested by the officer were subsequently dismissed.
On Wednesday, December 19, 2011, after a number of charges were dismissed by the prosecution because the arresting officers did not work for the APD anymore, the remaining witnesses for the prosecution were called up one by one and subjected to the same round of questions.
A handful of officers were unable to positively identify defendants, so the cases against those defendants were also dismissed.
Thursday, December 20, 2011, began with Judge Gaines quashing the subpoenas for the five City officials because, she ruled, there is no right of discovery on municipal ordinance charges.
Joe Beasley, a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, was the first witness called to the stand by the defense.
When asked about why he joined the occupation he said his conscience dictated that he join. He recalled when decades earlier it had been illegal for Black people to be in a park. He also spoke of when the ordinance restricting access to the Woodruff Park after 11pm was first enacted fifteen-years earlier, around the time the Olympics were held in Atlanta, and how he believed it was used to target the homeless spent who spent nights in the park.
“I was the oldest one there. I wanted to set an example,” Beasley said, when asked why he volunteered to be the first arrested.
Beasley said he had been in talks with Mayor Reed just one day prior to the eviction in which the Mayor stated he would not take any action regarding Occupy Atlanta until he had met with members of Concerned Black Clergy, some of whom had already visited the park occupation, to discuss what action to take regarding Occupy Atlanta. “We thought the Mayor was a man of his word,” Beasley lamented.
Attorneys for the defense then called the remaining defendants to the stand and asked each a similar round of questions, such as why they joined the Occupy Movement, if they had heard the order to leave the park over the PA system, and if there were ever any safety concerns in the park that they knew about.
Friday, December 21, 2012, was set to be the last day of the trial of the original park arrestees, but that morning, as previously reported by APN, the City turned over eight hundred pages of documents related to Occupy Atlanta that it had formerly denied existed.
The final witness for the defense, Sen. Fort, took the stand and answered similar questions as other defendants.
Responding to questions by the prosecution of his intent to be arrested, Fort said, “When you have an unjust law, I believe you have to resist it no matter the consequences, and you should be prepared to take the consequences.”
After the Fort’s testimony, instead of going forward with concluding arguments, Judge Gaines decided to give the defense time to review the hundreds of documents they had just received from the City, and released the defendants until a later date at which time the trial will resume and a ruling will be made regarding the final defendants.