Dallas police moved into the Occupy Dallas encampment at City Hall Park shortly after 1 a.m., and the eviction was quietly over less than an hour later.
Eighteen protesters were arrested without resistance shortly after 1:30 a.m., city spokesman Frank J. Librio said in a statement early Thursday morning.
Police began the removal process at about midnight, Librio said. Officers asked members of the group to leave several times over a 90-minute period, the city statement said.
Officers in riot gear had left the encampment by about 1:45 a.m., although a heavy police presence remained in the area.
"Occupy Dallas exists as more than a physical location," Occupy Dallas said in a press release early Thursday morning. "We are not just a camp, but a movement. This is our (r)evolution. This is not an end, but a beginning."
The group called the eviction was a "direct violation" of its First Amendment rights to free speech, freedom of expression and assembly.
The city said in its statement that overnight camping and sleeping in public generally are not associated with First Amendment rights but that it worked with the group on an agreement to allow an encampment for a short period of time.
Police entered camp shortly after 1 a.m.
Shortly after midnight, officers began telling protesters to leave the camp. At about 12:35 a.m., an officer on a loudspeaker told the group it had 20 minutes to leave the area. And at 1 a.m., police gave demonstrators "five more minutes."
At about 1:10 a.m., police announced by loudspeaker that anyone still on the property would be arrested. Officers in riot gear appeared to be checking for people about 15 minutes later, going through each tent very deliberately and methodically.
A small group of demonstrators had erected a barricade in the middle of the camp out of tables, chairs and other objects.
Only 20 to 30 people remained in the park at about 1:15 a.m. Many demonstrators left before the police arrived.
Occupy Dallas said in its press release that Dallas police officers gave a tip to the group Wednesday evening that the camp would be cleared.
More than 100 people were at the camp a few days earlier.
A very strong police presence was reported at the camp at about midnight. The campsite was totally surrounded by hundreds of police officers, including some in riot gear.
Demonstrators chanted, "This is what democracy looks like."
Some Occupy Dallas protesters began to pack up their belongings late Wednesday night as police sealed off streets in the area.
City cites safety worries as reason for eviction
Some people associated with Occupy Dallas violated the group's agreement with the city despite repeated requests for compliance, Librio said in the city's statement.
The city also cited "criminal offenses," and provided a list of 12 incidents since Oct. 24. Incidents included:
- the Oct. 24 arrests of protesters who allegedly blocked the entrance to a Dallas bank
- the Oct. 27 arrest of a man on suspicion of failing to register as a sex offender and sexual assault of a child
- alleged possession of cocaine by a man arrested on suspicion of public intoxication on Nov. 2
- a report of a woman urinating in front City Hall's entry doors on Nov. 13
- three incidents of alleged assault on Nov. 14 and 15
Dallas police reported "increasing dissension and strife" among factions of Occupy Dallas, the statement said. The city said that while demonstrators initially maintained a "peaceful posture," violent incidents had occurred and were becoming more frequent.
The city also said a buildup of trash and inadequate sanitary conditions could have lead to serious health issues.
Occupy Dallas: Removal was part of "coordinated attacks"
Before police warned demonstrators to leave, Occupy Dallas attorney Jonathan Winocour read the group an email from the city that said members had allegedly violated a number of the stipulations that were put into place and therefore had to leave.
But the group said in its press release early Thursday morning that the "raid was part of a wave of nationally coordinated attacks" in St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla. Occupy Dallas said authorities in New York; Oakland, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Denver took similar action on Tuesday.
"Ultimately, it is clear to us that the raid of our camp, planned in concert with the raids in other major cities, would have taken place regardless, and the city’s claims that we have violated our agreement is completely untrue," the group said.
Police developed their plans based on their experience and training, as well as "consultation with other cities dealing with the Occupy movement," the city said in its statement.
The email read by Winocour stated that the city would clean the site after the demonstrators left. Protesters would be allowed to return afterward but could no longer camp overnight, the email said.
Winocour said the city would not allow people to stay at the site between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.
Councilwoman says number of officers was "overkill"
Councilwoman Angela Hunt was highly critical of the eviction, calling the police response "vast overkill." She said the City Council received notice of the move just before midnight.
But Hunt also later tweeted that Dallas police were "very respectful and professional."
Occupy Dallas called the use of so many officers "a criminal waste of taxpayer resources" in its press release.
The city said in its statement that "the police presence was appropriate for the situation [and] facilitating compliance while ensuring" the safety of both police and demonstrators.
Police told NBC 5 news crews before they moved into the camp that they "had to leave the area." Media crews lined up across the street, and police told them they could not guarantee their safety.
Attorney met with city officials earlier
Winocour said earlier Wednesday that the campsite was "on the city's tolerance."
"If the city decides the occupation needs to go, the occupation needs to go," he said. "That's what I understand the city's message to be. I've told the occupants to remain vigilant, to do what they can."
Winocour met with city lawyers Wednesday morning. He said he left with the impression that the group would be permitted to remain at the camp through the original agreement's end date of Dec. 14 -- provided members behave properly and break no laws.
Also earlier Wednesday, Mayor Mike Rawlings said the city was still concerned about public safety at Occupy Dallas' camp.
Last week, city officials said the group violated its agreement with the city by misusing the campsite and repeatedly breaking the law. Open marijuana use, open containers of alcohol and an alleged sexual assault of a minor have all been reported at the camp.
A federal judge on Tuesday refused to block the city's threat to evict the camp from city property.
NBC 5's Ken Kalthoff, Scott Gordon and Amanda Guerra contributed to this report.
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