Occupy protesters go on trial claiming free-speech rights violated
PORTLAND, Ore. - Some of those arrested during the Occupy movement's encampment in downtown Portland last fall finally went on trial Wednesday.
The first group of three to head for trial was in court. There were a dozen defendants in just that group. They claimed getting kicked out of the downtown parks was unconstitutional.
After an encampment lasting five weeks, the city ordered police in November 2011 to evict Occupy Portland from Lownsdale and Chapman squares. Among those arrested during the evictions was Cameron Matta who'd allegedly thrown a firecracker at police on horseback.
Home video showed Matta's arrest after fellow protesters pointed to him as the culprit.
On Wednesday, Matta acted as his own attorney in court, questioning police why they arrested him and 11 others in and around Chapman Square during the sweep.
Instead of doing the usual - settling their misdemeanor arrest cases with minor fines, the protesters and their attorneys have fought with prosecutors for most of a year. They claimed city officials ordered police to close the parks to illegally silence the Occupy Movement.
"Whatever reasoning the state produces to justify the actions that were taken against these defendants, can't stand in the face of the constitutional protections that accrue to their political assembly and political speech," said defense attorney Robert Callahan.
City leaders and police said the encampment had become more sewer than speech - a magnet for crime and health problems.
Prosecutors played video, taken by police, to support police testimony that the arrested protesters physically confronted officers carrying out a lawful order to close the parks, not just to protesters, but to everyone, for one main reason:
"The motivation was the health and safety concerns that I had witnessed leading up to this date from the beginning," Sgt. Jeffrey Nyyia with the Portland Police Bureau said in court.
Wednesday's trial is supposed to last at least through Thursday.