Occupy Dallas to Sue City Over Letter - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Occupy Dallas to Sue City Over Letter

City conducts last-minute inspection before eviction hearing



    Occupy Dallas' request to block city threats of eviction for its City Hall campsite will go before a judge Friday afternoon.

    In a letter to the group earlier this week, the city threatened to remove the camp if alleged violations of their agreement were not corrected.

    City officials reinspected the campsite Thursday afternoon to review the alleged violations with an attorney representing Occupy Dallas.

    City inspectors still found outstanding issues, Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers said.

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    "We’re seeing some issues, and we're bringing them to their attention," he said.

    Occupy Dallas' request has been assigned to 191st District Court Judge Gena Slaughter. Her clerk set a hearing for the request for a temporary restraining order at 1 p.m. Friday.

    Bowers said the city will be represented at the hearing.

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    "We believe their contentions are without merit," he said. "We will oppose their requested relief."

    The city attorney's office's letter stated that Occupy Dallas has breached its Oct. 17 agreement with the city by putting up semi-permanent structures and signs, using City Hall restrooms and not properly collecting trash. (Read the letter and a city memo about the letter here.)

    The city set a 5 p.m. Saturday deadline for demonstrators to comply with the agreement, which is in effect until Dec. 12.

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    But Occupy Dallas disputed the city's complaints in documents filed in court on Thursday.

    "The occupants don't agree with the city's characterization of the actions as violating the settlement agreement," Occupy Dallas attorney Jonathan Winocour said.

    Winocour said the city's claims of violations are ambiguous or untrue, but that the group will continue to try to follow the rules.

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    "I think the group has conformed with the terms of the settlement agreement as they understood them," he said. "I think generally the behavior of the group has been good. There have been some unfortunate instances of conduct the group had very little control over."

    Police arrested a convicted sex offender last month on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl at the camp.

    The city cited the arrest and those of dozens Occupy Dallas protesters away from the campsite in its two-page letter as evidence of a "pattern of criminal activity."

    "There's a trend line here that's not positive," Mayor Mike Rawlings said. "And that's why we wanted that letter to go out and send our message very, very clearly that we're not going to accept anything but the straight and narrow."

    But Winocour said arrests away from the campsite and contact at the site are two different issues.

    "The folks who've been arrested for protesting are innocent until proven guilty," he said. "That's the way our system works, so those allegations really have no bearing on what's going on at the campsite."

    Eight group members were arrested Saturday at the Bank of America Plaza, most of them on charges of "improper use of a sidewalk."

    Stephen Benavides, who is accused of assaulting a police officer, was released from jail Wednesday. He was last member to be freed.

    Benavides says the officer assaulted him.

    "There's been a history of violence and political attacks by the Dallas Police Department against myself," he said as he left the jail.

    Occupy Dallas members demonstrated Wednesday at the jail in support of Benavides.

    The city's legal dispute with the group comes as Dallas prepares for two big events on Friday, the grand opening of the city's Omni Dallas Hotel and a Veteran's Day Parade.

    Rawlings said city officials have considered how they might remove the group's camp but also wants to guard free-speech rights.

    "We all live in this city together, and I want to foster that," he said. "But the minute we start to be unsafe, we're not going to tolerate it. And when we decide to do it, it will be done overnight, and it will be done quickly."

    NBC 5's Frank Heinz contributed to this report.

    More: Read Occupy Dallas' petition