Hours before the Haslam administration announced it would ask District Attorney Torry Johnson to dismiss charges against the Occupy Nashville protesters at War Memorial Plaza, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey expressed a get-tough stand.
“I think they ought to be removed,” Ramsey said. “I do.
“I’ll bet you that if I took a Boy Scout troop up there and camped out over the weekend, they wouldn’t allow them to do it. That’s just my opinion. I think they’ve gone way too far.”
But David Smith, press secretary for Gov. Bill Haslam, said Thursday afternoon that because of the temporary restraining order issued against the state in taking protesters away from the plaza, the state is seeking to drop the charges against those who were arrested.
State troopers arrested 29 protesters the night after curfew rules were put into effect at the site on Oct. 27, and 26 people were arrested the next night. The administration said it made the decision to arrest protesters in the interest of safety and because of unsanitary conditions involving the protesters, many of whom have set up tents at the plaza, which sits downhill from the front steps of the Capitol.
“As part of the effort to resolve issues surrounding the use of War Memorial Plaza, we’re beginning the process of establishing rules for use of the area by all citizens,” Smith said in a statement Thursday.
The administration had declared a curfew would go into effect at the site forbidding people from being there from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, after it began to hear complaints related to the protesters. After the arrests, for two nights in a row, a magistrate refused to put the protesters in jail. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger issued a temporary restraining order on the arrests, and the state did not contest the order.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the protesters filed suit against the state, claiming an infringement on their First Amendment rights of free speech.
Smith said the process for establishing new rules will involve the pursuit of a “variety of perspectives to honor the plaza as a public space for all to enjoy. We look forward to having ground rules in place to ensure that it is a safe and clean environment.”
Smith said the state will work under the assumption that the temporary restraining order would be extended. He noted, however, that the state is not blocked from enforcing existing laws regarding public safety and health.
Ramsey said Thursday he never talked at all to Haslam about the protesters.
“The allegations that have been there that have gone on, with sexual misconduct, things of that nature, there is a limit to this, and I do think this is a public place, and everybody has their First Amendment rights, but I think they’ve overstepped their bounds, I do,” Ramsey said of the protesters.