Police push Occupy Tucson from DeAnza Park, 21 arrested
A day after being told to leave DeAnza Park, 21 Occupy Tucson campers were arrested by Tucson police Thursday morning. City officials cited increasing disturbances and calls to police for the move.
An Occupy organizer said the increased calls are due to the group's move to keep drug dealers out of the park.
Police began to evict Occupiers and their tents from the park area just before 10 a.m., a department spokeswoman said.
Twenty-one people were arrested, said Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor at an afternoon press briefing. He said most of the enforcement action was peaceful. While most Occupiers were cooperative when arrested, some either passively or defensively resisted by going limp or making themselves difficult to handcuff.
Those arrested were charged with obstructing a city sidewalk, said TPD Sgt. Maria Hawke. One man was also charged with resisting arrest.
Those taken into custody were handcuffed and taken to the Pima County Adult Detention Center.
Officers went to the park at 7:30 a.m. Thursday to break up an argument between a member of a rival group and Occupy organizers Dave Croteau and Mary DeCamp.
A member of Occupy Public Lands, a group with a more confrontational stance than most of the Occupiers, "was up in our face," Croteau said.
"He was drunk and out of control, blaming us for the police kicking us out," he said.
The man, known as "Ivan," was taken into custody by officers, he said. Neither Croteau nor DeCamp would press charges, but the man was arrested on an outstanding warrant, Villaseñor said.
DeCamp was among those later arrested.
About 45 officers remained at the park at 11:15, searching the tents and belongings of the Occupiers and taking them into evidence. Five civilian evidence technicians also were at the scene, Villaseñor said.
Occupy Tucson campers were told by Tucson Police to vacate DeAnza Park by Thursday. City officials cited increasing disturbances and calls to police for the move in a Wednesday press release.
Occupiers met Wednesday evening to plan their response.
"We're confident that we're not violating any laws," said one of the encampment's organizers, Dave Croteau, Wednesday night.
In one of the group's largest recent meetings, about 65 Occupiers discussed the situation in a General Assembly on Wednesday night, he said.
While some campers decided to leave, rather than risk a citation, others were determined to exercise what they see as a constitutional right, Croteau said.
"Some way, we're going to have our intended community," he said.
Thursday morning, some Occupiers had moved their tents to a vacant lot on the other side of Stone Avenue from the park.
Villaseñor said those campers were advised Thursday that the lot's owner did not want them on the property. By afternoon, only three tents remained.
There have been 20-some tents set up in an easement area next to the park since the beginning of the month.
Wednesday morning, police informed the campers in the park at Speedway and Stone Avenue that they must leave the park by Thursday.
The Occupiers are being pushed out because of "a dramatic increase in calls for service in the De Anza Park area since the encampment began," said city spokeswoman Nicole Ewing-Gavin on Wednesday afternoon.
"Violence has occurred in the encampment resulting in at least four orders of protection on campers by other campers. In addition, many complaints have been received from surrounding businesses and residents," she said in a press release.
Occupy Tucson members set up tents on a city-owned easement on the west side of the park on Feb. 2 after they were moved from the sidewalk next to downtown's Veinte de Agosto Park.
A Feb. 24 memo from TPD Chief Roberto Villaseñor to City Manager Richard Miranda outlined a 52 percent increase this month in police calls to the area over last February.
In 2011, the area within 1,000 feet of the park had 59 calls, jumping to 90 in February 2012, he said.
"The largest increase was in disturbance calls, going from 0 in 2011 to 24 in 2012," he said.
In addition to the restraining orders, there have been fights among Occupiers, including on that resulted in a broken nose, Villaseñor said.
Other complaints have included shoplifting at a nearby Circle K, and use of a neighboring hotel's pool for bathing.
Some people have told police they've felt intimidated to walk down the sidewalk where the Occupiers were camped, Villaseñor said Thursday.
The campers have been violating a city ordinance against obstructing a sidewalk, City Attorney Mike Rankin said Thursday morning.
"The area between the curb line and the property line is all considered sidewalk" under the code, he said. "Even if there's not an improved concrete sidewalk, that law applies."
The increase in calls is due to the Occupiers' "intent to confront the drug dealers in the parks," Croteau said.
"We want to drive them out," he said. "They've been blatant about their drug-dealing, and they don't want us around."
One of the restraining orders applies to Croteau, he said. It was filed by Jon McLane, who leads a rival group, Occupy Public Lands.
Tucson has the longest-running uninterrupted anti-corporate protest in the nation, Croteau said earlier this month.
Occupy Tucson began Oct. 15 when demonstrators set up tents in Armory Park on South 6th Avenue. Police evicted them from that park in November.
They then moved to downtown's Veinte de Agosto (also known as Pancho Villa Park).
Although protesters were evicted from Veinte de Agosto in late December, they continued their protest on the sidewalk until the early February move north to DeAnza, and occupied the downtown park during daylight, Croteau said at the time.
Rather than set up their tents in DeAnza, they pitched them on a city-owned easement next to it, which is thus not covered by the park curfew law.
When the city added a right-turn lane on North Stone Avenue at Speedway about a decade ago, the stone wall marking the western edge of DeAnza Park was moved, leaving a 20-foot stretch between the roadway and the park boundary.
Many of the Occupy Tucson protesters are more interested in community outreach and getting across their message of social change, rather than continuing to rack up citations for being in parks overnight, Croteau said.