Oct. 30, 2011
By TRAVIS LOLLER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s governor and his administration have twice sent state troopers to handcuff and haul away Occupy Nashville protesters camped out just steps away from the Capitol. And twice, a relatively obscure local official refused to throw them in jail.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly asked Albany‘s mayor last weekend to begin enforcing the 11 p.m. curfew at a park where the protesters have set up camp. Mayor Jerry Jennings declined.
Demonstrators are camping out in public parks in cities across the country, protesting against what they see as corporate greed and inequities in the American economy. Cities are dealing with the differently, some trying to work with protesters to leave peacefully, while others have sent in police to arrest them.
Under Tennessee state law, a judicial commissioner determines if there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. That official in this case has set the demonstrators free, despite Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts.
The magistrate, Tom Nelson, says state officials have no authority to set a curfew requiring the protesters to clear out or face arrest.
“The magistrate’s position is sort of a safety valve to prevent overzealous officers from putting people in jail for no reason,” Nashville attorney Jim Todd said. He said it’s extraordinarily rare when a magistrate refuses to sign off on an arrest warrant. But he supported Nelson’s decision, saying he believes the safety valve worked.
In Albany, Occupy protesters have pitched tents in a city park across the street from the state Capitol. Cuomo has been targeted by the demonstrators for opposing an extension of a temporary tax on people earning more than $200,000 per year. And he wants them out.
Jennings said removing the group would be more trouble than it was worth.
“Some of the governor’s people were pretty firm about our not doing this, letting them stay in the park, but basically, we had allowed this before,” Jennings told the New York Post. “My counsel said we’d be opening ourselves up to civil liability if we forced them out.”
He added that he believed Albany’s left-leaning District Attorney, David Soares, sympathized with the protesters.
“My understanding is he spoke to the Albany police and told them he wouldn’t prosecute,” Jennings told the newspaper.