Members of the Occupy Santa Barbara movement have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming their constitutional rights were violated when arrests and citations were issued after the group refused to leave De la Guerra Plaza this fall.
Eight protesters were arrested Oct. 5 for being in the area past the 10 p.m. curfew.
A complaint in Santa Barbara County Superior Court was filed Dec. 1, and states that the charges against the plaintiffs were “unlawful and unconstitutional.”
The plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit are Justin Moore, Lourin Brambia-Chavira, Justin Kennedy, Justine Kennedy, Zachary King, Thayer Brown, Bryan Pennington and Ann Marie Telfer.
The complaint calls the plaza “a traditional public forum for gathering to exercise free speech and to petition government for redress of grievances.”
The city administrator’s and city attorney’s offices directed Santa Barbara police to take a “very measured response to enforce the existing municipal codes,” Sgt. Riley Harwood previously told Noozhawk. He said city administrators were concerned about long-term camping, sanitation and other damaging effects to the park, and determined it would be best to enforce the municipal codes.
A video was shot that night that was posted online and has since been taken down, but showed a crowd of protesters and about 20 Santa Barbara police officers asking people to leave the plaza or be cited or arrested.
“I implore you, I’m going to give you one more opportunity to leave the park,” one sergeant is heard saying on the video after a police van pulls up.
Park closure times are specified as 10 p.m. to sunrise, and the city attorney’s office drafted warning notices that were distributed around 6 p.m. that day.
“Plaintiffs and other members of Occupy SB have been arrested, issued citations and summoned into court on charges of unlawfully remaining in the plaza after the hour of 11 p.m. and for allegedly sleeping in the plaza,” the complaint states. “Occupy SB members have been and are now exercising constitutional rights to engage in public political expression protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and by the provisions of free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of petition in articles of the California Constitution.”
The complaint also states that police and city employees confiscated private property such as sleeping bags, tents, first aid kits and other property without a warrant or court order, and that the city continues to unlawfully issue citations and has indicated it intends to continue doing so.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to find that the city violated their rights of speech, that it can’t further prohibit assembly, to stop seizing property of protesters, to pay damages for all arrests and to pay attorneys costs.
The city has not yet responded to the complaint, and City Attorney Steve Wiley did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment Thursday.
The group will have to prove that the city’s regulations against sleeping in the parks have been enforced selectively. Occupy movements in other cities, such as New York City, Boston and Denver, have also filed lawsuits against their municipalities for the encampments and subsequent arrests.