As Mpls drops riot charges, Occupy looks to go on the legal offensive
Occupy protestors at the Cruz home on May 30, as Minneapolis's then-Police Chief Tim Dolan climbs over them.
On Monday, the last of the Occupy activists facing riot charges over the Cruz home protests arrived at a courtroom for trial, joined by about 50 supporters. If convicted, the four defendants -- Catherine Salonek, Jessica Davis, Tomahawk Riley and Dee Xaba -- would face up to two years in prison and a $7,000 fine.
- Occupy Homes protesters charged with rioting
- Police efforts at now-foreclosed Cruz family home cost taxpayers $42,429
- Occupy Homes can't defend Cruz family home from third eviction attempt
They were among 14 charged and 39 arrested (including Brother Ali) in May and June as they demonstrated against the Cruz family's eviction from their south Minneapolis home.
In the six months since, Occupy has repeatedly denounced the riot charges, which are classified as a violent crime, staging protests at City Hall and organizing call-in days. Protesters with earlier cases had accepted plea deals that reduced their charges to petty misdemeanors and a minor fine.
Monday, just before the trial was to start, lawyers offered a plea deal that dropped the riot charges. Instead, the four defendants pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor that will not go on their record if they complete community service and a year of probation.
Now that the last case has been settled, Occupy Homes is looking to go on the legal offensive. Activists are reviewing materials and accounts to see if they have a case against the city over protestor treatment.
"There have been a number of incidents, especially at the Cruz house, where people felt like their rights were violated," says Nick Espinosa, an Occupy organizer whose own riot charges were dropped prior to Monday.
Espinosa says that Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, now retired, stepped on his neck and shoulders at one of the Cruz demonstrations, and that other protestors reported physical altercations with the police.
"We don't like this kind of a distraction, but when our supporters are facing unjust charges we have no choice but to respond to that," says Espinosa. "We're glad that this is finally coming to an end, and that we can get back to focusing on the work we want to do, which is keeping our neighbors in their homes."
With those efforts, Occupy isn't slowing down. Two weeks ago, to mark the movement's one year anniversary, activists declared a "Foreclosure-Free Zone" in Powderhorn and Central Minneapolis, and moved a veteran without a home into a foreclosed property. (He has since moved out, after the homeowner, who is still within her redemption period on the property, asked him to leave).
On Sunday, Occupy is organizing a similar action, this time in St. Paul and with a property owner supportive of the movement. The plan is to move in a family to be "home for the holidays."
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