Haley is sued by protestors

Protest organizer Dillon Corbett, center, of Columbia, joins other protesters in defiance of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's protesting curfew at the Statehouse.

 

COLUMBIA — Several Occupy Columbia protesters arrested last week for refusing to leave the Statehouse grounds sued South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and state public safety officials Wednesday, saying their First Amendment rights were trampled when they were arrested for demonstrating on public property.

Meanwhile, a circuit judge granted a request from the protesters to resume their 24-7 occupation at the Statehouse until a hearing in the case scheduled for Dec. 1. The order also allows protesters to have tents on the grounds for the first time.

Saying Occupy Colum­bia is composed of peaceful protesters, the lawsuit alleges Haley blames the protesters for damage to State­house grounds because she doesn’t agree with their message.

“The physical occupation and physical presence is a key component of the protesters’ actual ‘occupation’ of the State House grounds and, therefore, a key component of the Occupy protesters’ political statement and petitioning conduct,” attorneys for the protesters wrote in the lawsuit, filed in Richland County Circuit Court. “The reason why the Occupy protests are so controversial and uncomfortable for governmental officials to endure is that it is the most persuasive form of peaceful, nonviolent protest.”

The seven men and women who brought the suit were among 19 protesters arrested Nov. 16 after Haley said anyone trying to camp out on the Statehouse grounds after 6 p.m. would be arrested by the Bureau of Protective Ser­vices for trespassing.

During a Statehouse news conference that afternoon, Haley said protesters were free to return during daylight hours but that the occupation had damaged the grounds and cost thousands in officer overtime and other costs.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety had no comment on the lawsuit. Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Haley, said the governor would fight the lawsuit.

“Let’s be clear. You have a group that lived on the grounds for 33 days, destroyed public property, used the State­house flower beds as a toilet, and now a judge says, ‘Forget the rules, forget their actions, and by the way bring your tent,’ ” Godfrey wrote in an e-mail. “It’s unacceptable, and we will fight it every step of the way.”

Tim Liszewski, who has acted as Occupy Columbia’s liaison with state officials, said the group was to hold a general assembly later Wednes­day to decide whether to set up camp again.

OCCUPY ATLANTA TO APPEAL DECISION

A federal appeals court could soon review a judge’s decision to block Occupy Atlanta’s request to stay in a downtown park.

The organizers of Occupy Atlanta said in a court filing Wednesday that they will ask the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to consider the case. It comes weeks after a federal judge refused to block Atlanta police from evicting the protesters from the park while the lawsuit was pending.

Occupy Atlanta says Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s decision to revoke his executive order allowing protesters to stay in the park was unconstitutional. Reed has said the decision was necessary because of mounting safety concerns.

– Associated Press

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