DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Occupy Dallas took their defense to the courtroom Wednesday, seeking a temporary restraining order against the city’s ultimatum that they clean up their campgrounds by Saturday at 5 p.m. or face eviction.
On Tuesday, City Manager Mary Suhm and First Assistant City Attorney Christopher Bowers sent a stern warning to the group, threatening to sever Occupy Dallas’ settlement agreement with the city if it didn’t correct a number of violations.
That settlement allows the protestors to set up an encampment in a grassy area to the south of City Hall, and without it, police will move in and remove tents and “other obstructions” that protestors set up on city grounds.
Before the formal filing Wednesday, group spokesman Michael Prestonise issued a statement saying the group “takes offense” to the city’s assertion that it granted the protestors the right to stay on the property and that it can deny that right just the same.
To Prestonise, it’s a First Amendment issue: Occupy Dallas is exercising its right to political expression as granted by the Constitution, not by the city of Dallas.
The restraining order application says the group “appeared to be adhering” to the rules the settlement agreement set for them.
But Suhm, in her memo issued to the City Council Tuesday, says “feces and moldy, mildewy food is found on the ground at the camp.” She says tents and signs are set up in unapproved areas and that the protestors have been using the restrooms at City Hall.
Adhering to the settlement agreement isn’t the only thing the city and the Occupiers haven’t seen eye-to-eye on: When eight protestors were arrested Saturday during a 200-strong march onto the Bank of America building downtown, the city alleges Stephen Benavides, 30, punched an officer. He was charged with assaulting a public servant.
Seven others were picked up and booked during that protest, mostly for improper use of a sidewalk. The Occupy camp, however, says police incited the riot by pushing Benavides to the ground while he clutched a flag.
“The city’s letter mentions the perceived escalation of tensions between protesters and police,” Prestonise wrote in his response Wednesday. “Tensions which led to the arrests of several protesters on Saturday, Nov. 5 for ‘improper use of a sidewalk,’ after an off-duty police officer shoved a protester to the ground.”
Suhm’s memo also noted that Child Protective Services seized a baby that a homeless family was raising in a tent at the protest site last week, and the arrest of Richard Armstrong, 24, who faces a pair of felony charges for having sex with a 14-year-old girl in a tent and failing to register as a sex offender.
Prestonise maintains the group has done what it can to spark responsible discussions with city leaders over the recent occurrences.
The Dallas Morning News’ Scoop Blog reported Wednesday night that the group’s attorney, Jonathan Winocour, said he was hoping for a hearing on the filing later this week.
Occupy Dallas began on Oct. 6, when about 500 protestors marched to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Upwards of 100 protestors have remained camped at the area behind City Hall, although many more – sometimes hundreds – participate in daytime marches and protests around the city.
Here’s the full application filing: