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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Injuction Issued, Legislative Plaza Curfew Enforcement On Hold

The state’s new Legislative Plaza curfew rules that resulted in the recent arrest of more than 50 Occupy Nashville protesters last week were put on hold by a federal judge while state officials and the protesters’ lawyers work out new policies.

Judge Aleta Trauger granted a temporary restraining order against further arrests, adding that she finds Legislative Plaza to be the “quintessential” place for a public forum and the new curfew was a “clear prior restraint on free speech rights.”

Assistant Attorney General William Marett said the state did not plan on fighting the temporary restraining order and instead said state troopers would make no more arrests pertaining to protesters occupying the plaza.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee — which is representing the protesters — and the state “came pretty close” to an agreement before the afternoon hearing, according to ACLU Cooperating Attorney David Briley. They now have until a Nov. 21 court date to iron out those details, which could include whether protesters can continue to use the plaza as an encampment in the future.

“We’ll have to figure that out,” Briley told reporters. “It clearly is a victory. (Protesters) were out there under the threat of arrest every night and now they’re not going to be so it’s clearly a victory for them.”

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Gibbons: State Can’t ‘Babysit Protesters 24/7’

Among the questions Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons fielded about the early morning arrest of protesters who had taken up residence on Legislative Plaza was what justified the new curfew and demonstrations policy.

It was, in part, protesters’ concerns about public safety and health conditions amid reports of individuals being victimized such as a woman being groped while playing a board game, a fight breaking out between homeless people and others using the area like a public bathroom, he told reporters in a press conference Friday.

“Protesters themselves approached the state earlier this week asking for some assistance to address the problem that they were facing. … I think what the Department of General Services was trying to do was strike a balance between making sure they had their right to peacefully protest, but at the same time, address the concerns they had, as well as others, over public safety and health conditions.

“They probably don’t see it this way, but I think we have set up a condition where they can peacefully protest under safe circumstances. We are not in a position, we do not have the resources to go out, and, in effect, babysit protesters 24/7.”

The policy issued Thursday closes down the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial and Capitol grounds from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and requires parties interested in protesting to purchase a permit from the Department of General Services pending approval of the Tennessee Capitol Commission.

Those permits will be good from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and groups wishing to demonstrate later will need a special use permit that may be issued at the discretion of the department.

Gibbons also discussed how he chose the 3 a.m. timing for the arrest of 29 “Occupy Nashville” protesters and said he disagreed with a night judge who refused to sign the warrants on the basis that there was no legal justification for the arrests.