Occupy New Haven began to tear down most of its 6-month-old encampment Tuesday afternoon, as the group lost the latest battle in a fight to stay on the Green. Occupiers said they plan to keep a small presence on the Green.
Some were holding out hope for an 11th-hour effort in state court to stop the eviction; a housing court clerk announced at 4:40 p.m. that the paperwork for that effort was rejected.
A last-minute federal court stay stopped last week’s eviction. But Tuesday morning Occupy lost its federal case once and for all at the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York. (Read Thomas MacMillan’s exclusive account of those court proceedings here.)
After the court hearing, police asked Occupy to clear out before 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to Lt. Rebecca Sweeney, downtown’s top cop. Sweeney joined three other white-shirted top cops on the Green Tuesday, watching the voluntary destruction of the camp.
“People seem to have already gotten the message that it’s time to go,” said Lt. Ray Hassett.
Occupier Ray Neal said his group met shortly after noon for an emergency General Assembly meeting.
“We decided that we would protect everyone’s belongings” by clearing them off-site, to people’s homes and basements, he said.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re leaving—we’re just trying to protect everybody’s stuff.”
Neal said the Occupation agreed to keep two key strongholds on the Green—a large tent called Russia and a smaller presence by the peace garden. The idea is to “leave someplace to sleep”—while saving most of the camp from bulldozers.
When the city began an eviction last week, Neal noted, it destroyed the homes of three people.
Officials were generally considered to have botched last week’s eviction in part by being outmaneuvered in federal court and in part by sending both the police and bulldozers and payloaders at once to converge on the encampment. The city tried to both to clear people and clear out their detritus at the same time, sparking a confrontation.
On Tuesday, officials appeared to be taking a different approach—waiting until Occupiers did most of the work themselves and avoiding conflict.
While Lt. Sweeney said cops gave Occupiers a move-out time of 8 a.m. Wednesday, police downplayed that deadline.
Lt. Hassett (pictured from behind) said cops issued no ultimatum for people who might remain at that time. “We’re just talking,” he said. “It’s just a conversation.”
“It’s excellent that people are starting to pack up,” he added. “It’s greatly appreciated.”
At 1 p.m., Occupiers were busy tearing away tarps, wheeling off bins of scrap wood, and stacking pallets.
“If anyone’s taking down my house, I’m doing it!” exclaimed Jillian Tupper (at right in photo with Erin Mitchell), 29, as she pulled at the wooden wall of her home for the last two months.
She called the dismantling “sad,” but “I’m glad I was here to do it.”
“We built it, we might as well be the ones to destroy it,” she said.
A Hail Mary Pass
Meanwhile, some Occupiers girded for possible arrest, and some held out hope for a last-minute complaint filed Tuesday morning in state housing court at 121 Elm St. The complaint, filed by attorney Irv Pinsky (pictured), charges that the city broke Connecticut’s anti-lockout law when it began to carry out an eviction last week; it asks for an 11th-hour injunction preventing the city from booting the “residents” from the Green.
Pinsky said the state law requires advance notice, then a summary order from a judge, before a landlord can change the locks on a tenant.
“When they came with those bulldozers and payloaders and guns, they were not following the law” during last week’s halted eviction, Pinsky said.
Pinsky said his suit asks for an injunction against the city “that they not lock them out of their place of residence” before following proper eviction procedure through state court.
He said he expects a hearing as soon as Tuesday on the case, which may serve to delay the eviction.
But Pinsky will have to convince a judge not just to hear a motion for a stay, but also to rule that the protesters have effectively become “occupants” (in the non-political sense) of the Green.
Pinsky’s case hinges on state law forbidding eviction without court action—and adequate notice to the tenant. (Click here for background on the anti-lockout law.) The question here is whether the Occupiers, who never had a permit to camp on the Green, qualify as residents of the Green under the law.
Max Brunswick, a New Haven housing attorney, said “there’s a good argument that they would have had to have been evicted,” according to the process set out by state law. The occupiers clearly aren’t tenants, he said—they don’t have a lease—but they may qualify as “occupants.” That’s akin to a long-term house guest, and occupants do have to be formally evicted, he said.
“You wouldn’t have a right to stay there, but you’d have to be evicted before they can put you out,” Brunswick said. “That would be the argument.”
If protesters successfully registered to vote using the Green as their address, or forwarded their mail there, that would bolster their case, he added. Some of the positive statements made about the protesters by city officials, at least early in the camp’s history, might also be seen as permission to stay there, Brunswick said.
In a statement, Victor Bolden, the city’s top attorney, was dismissive of Pinsky’s latest legal maneuver.
“Given the recent rulings by both the U.S. District Court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, any further legal efforts to prevent the City of New Haven from enforcing its laws on the New Haven Green should be seen for what they are: frivolous attempts to undermine the rule of law,” Bolden said.
(Update: The chief housing clerk at Superior Court announced at 4:40 p.m. that Judge Terence Zemetis had rejected Pinsky’s complaint because the paperwork wasn’t “in order”—click here to read more.)
Danielle DiGirolamo (pictured), who’s been with the occupation since its founding on Oct. 15, put some clothes and books into a cardboard box Tuesday morning after she heard the news about the federal ruling.
“I’m taking some stuff out that I don’t want to be destroyed,” she said, “but I’m not going anywhere.”
She said she didn’t know if she would get arrested, but “I know I’m not going to just give up or go out without a fight.”
DiGirolamo is one of two plaintiffs in Pinsky’s suit filed Tuesday morning seeking to forestall the eviction.
Around noon Tuesday, Pinsky gathered about two dozen Occupiers and gave them some legal advice.
“I don’t get the feeling that the city is in a panic about throwing you out right away,” Pinsky said, but “you should be ready to move in a moment’s notice.”
“I don’t recommend that anybody get arrested over this beautiful piece of dirt,” he advised.
One Occupier, Donald Montano (pictured), called out that he was ready to put up a fight.
“You only get arrested so many times before nobody can get you out,” warned Pinsky.
Montano, who taunted cops with a doughnut on a string during last week’s eviction, declared Tuesday that “I have no fear for jail.”
After getting charged with other crimes in the past, Montano said, “finally there’s a good reason to get arrested.”
He was asked if he plans to fortify the camp before the bulldozers return.
“Why let the enemy know what you’re going to do?”
Gwyneth K. Shaw contributed reporting.