AUGUSTA — Occupy Augusta protesters who vow they will be arrested rather than leave Capitol Park won a week-long reprieve from police orders they get out.

A federal district court judge issued an order Monday that will allow protesters to remain in the park for at least another week.

Attorney Lynne Williams filed a motion in federal District Court in Bangor Monday on behalf of some Occupy Augusta participants seeking a temporary restraining order asking the court to stop Capitol Police from closing down the Occupy Augusta encampment. The park is owned and managed by the state.

She also filed suit against the state Department of Public Safety, saying the requirement that protesters get a permit is unconstitutional.

She said Judge Nancy Torresen ordered a one week “step back” in which everything stays as is, and the protesters will be allowed to remain until a hearing scheduled for Monday in Bangor.

Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland said the state agreed to take no action against the Occupy Augusta encampment for a week as long as members agreed to no longer have any fires in the park.

“We’re in a holding pattern until Monday,” McCausland said.

Friday, Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin told Occupy Augusta participants they had to apply by this past Monday for a permit to continue protesting in the park. If they didn’t, police would remove them and their tents, he said.

That didn’t sway some Occupiers, who said Monday they’ll be arrested before either leaving or applying for a permit.

“We’re staying,” said Demi Colby, of Gardiner, one of the roughly 15 people who have camped out in Capitol Park, across the street from the State House, regularly since October. “At this point this is my home. I gave up everything for this cause.”

She said several others also planned to stay despite police orders.

Colby said they shouldn’t have to apply for a permit to exercise their right to free speech guaranteed by the Constitution.

Even if the protesters got a permit to protest, they would no longer be allowed to camp out in Capitol Park, according to McCausland.

“It is time for the encampment to end,” McCausland said Monday. “Their right to protest is likely to be approved. But we ask they abide by the same requirement any other group would have to abide by, that they apply for a permit.”

Williams, of Bar Harbor, said she is representing Jim Freeman and Diane Messer for free because she believes in the Occupy movement. Both were arrested protesting at the Blaine House Sunday. She noted she could also recover attorney’s fees if her clients win the case.

The lawsuit alleges requiring protesters to get a permit to continue their vigil in Capitol Park violates their First Amendment rights. It names Commissioner of Public Safety John Morris as the defendant.

The lawsuit states the occupy movement “seeks to expose how the wealthiest 1 percent of society are promulgating an unfair global economy that is harming people, and destroying communities worldwide.”

Williams notes in her filing the 24-hour-a-day physical occupation is a core component of the message of the movement.

“It expresses the Occupy protesters’ statement of the 99 percent taking back the city or town and of hope for a more just and equal society in a way that other forms of protest could not express.”

She said there recently appears to be a concerted effort across the country to remove Occupy protesters from public places.

Ed Bonenfant, an Occupier from Augusta, said he won’t leave the park and is looking forward to getting arrested.

“As soon as the removal starts, the arrests start, that is when we’ll get a lot of support in the community,” Bonenfant said. “It helps the cause.”

Sunday, nine protesters were arrested on the grounds of the governor’s residence, the Blaine House, across State Street from the park.

McCausland noted up until the Blaine House incident, the Occupiers and police had “a very cordial working relationship.”

“Yesterday was a disappointment,” he said.

Capitol Police have allowed the protesters to stay in Capitol Park since Oct. 15 despite rules that require a permit to demonstrate there. Gauvin said previously police were trying to strike a balance between enforcing that civil violation for not applying for a permit with the First Amendment rights of protesters to redress their grievances with their government.

Saturday, Gauvin said that balance had shifted. He said the Occupiers were causing damage to the ground at the park, other people had complained about their presence and there had been very little actual protest activity going on.

Gauvin met with a few of the Occupiers Monday morning.

McCausland said Gauvin gave them an application for a permit to protest in the park. He said late Monday afternoon they had not filed the application. He declined to discuss what would happen if the protesters do not file the application and refuse to pack up their tents.

“It’s our hope they will (file for a permit) and it is also our hope they will adhere to our request to remove the encampment,” McCausland said before the district court decision allowing for another week of protests. “I’m not going to get into what they are facing.”

Several smaller tents at the expansive Capitol Park were taken down and removed by Occupy Augusta participants Monday. Bonenfant said those tents would have been taken down anyway. He said at least two tents would remain on the grounds, a large Cabela’s winter tent and a teepee built with help from the Penobscot Nation.

The group had been using at least two raised fire pits to help keep warm. However McCausland said fires will no longer be allowed in the park.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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