(Updated) Forty minutes after they began dismantling New England’s longest-standing “Occupy Wall Street” encampment, police and public-works crews officially halted the eviction as word spread of a last-minute federal court order.
“The city has decided to allow Occupy [New Haven] to continue as is for the time being” on the Green, city Corporation Counsel Victor Bolden announced to increasingly raucous protesters at 12:40 p.m. Tuesday.
Bolden said he had just received word that an appeals court judge in New York had ordered a week-long stay in the eviction, until April 17. The stay applies to only eight people, but for now, Bolden said, the city will allow everyone to stay.
“We obey the law,” Police Chief Dean Esserman said at the scene. “We are the police.”
The eviction had begun at noon. The last-minute stay delays the eviction for another week.
Before the eviction was halted, two Occupy New Haven protesters ended up in handcuffs. One was arrested after jumping into a payloader bucket to retrieve his confiscated belongings.
At noon, police moved to dismantle the encampment, even as the protest group’s lawyer announced the court’s reprieve.
Occupy protester Ray Neal rushed a payloader as a city staffer began clearing away tents.
“You are breaking federal law!” a protester named Moose chanted through a bullhorn.
Top downtown cop Lt. Rebecca Sweeney stepped in at 12:10 to negotiate, surrounded by chants of “Cops go home!”
Several cops carried protester Sara Ferah away in handcuffs shortly before 12:30 p.m.. A witness said Ferah had been trying to pull personal belongings out of a public-works payloader.
Ferah “almost broke his neck. It was scary,” said homeless outreach worker Kenny Driffin.
Another man was arrested right around noon. He was a first-time Occupy supporter, according to an occupier named Molly, who said she helped him make a sign earlier in the day.
Bolden (pictured) huddled with the police chief at the scene to decide their next steps. Then officials announced around 12:40 that they were backing off.
It all made for a confusing scene on the upper Green, as long-anticipated dismantling of New England’s longest-standing encampment in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement began—and then stopped.
As the noon deadline set by a New Haven-based federal judge passed, Occupy lawyer Norm Pattis was frantically trying to get word to officials that a judge in New York City at the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals had just apparently approved his request to delay the operation just as it was beginning.
Pattis said he got a call just after noon from a court clerk that a judge had granted him the stay and that the order was being drafted. He said he informed New Haven officials but they refused to wait.
It’s the second time in the past month that Pattis has successfully stopped the eviction of Occupy New Haven with a last-minute court stay. Click here to read all about that.
“The city is on notice,” Pattis said in a phone interview from New York City at 12:22 p.m. “They said they couldn’t wait. I don’t know what the rush is. It’s been six months. They couldn’t wait for the Second Circuit? It’s a scandal. It’s pretty amazing.”
“If they continue on at this point, they do so at their peril.”
Indeed, the eviction was proceeding apace on the Green, with protesters, informed of the news by Pattis, trying to stop it.
“Occupy New Haven says it has a stay. We have not been served. We haven’t seen anything,” mayoral spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton said at 12:25 p.m. So the eviction proceeded.
After it stopped, Benton reported: “Because we can’t tell the difference between the plaintiffs’ tents and everybody else’s tents, we are suspending the operation.”
Mayor: Camp Is “Obnoxious”
At a 2:30 p.m. press conference in City Hall, Mayor John DeStefano (pictured) said the city will not move against the camp until the legal situation is sorted out.
“The people of New Haven deserve the New Haven Green back,” DeStefano said. While the city has been “cooperative and supportive” of the camp for nearly six months, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for a few to monopolize” the space any longer.
A total of two people were arrested on Tuesday at the camp, DeStefano said. “I have no reason to believe the arrests weren’t appropriate.”
He said the city will be ensuring all fire, safety, and public health regulations are followed at Occupy.
“This has become an obnoxious use of the Green by a few people,” he said.
Earlier in the day, with five minutes to go before a noon deadline for Occupy New Haven to leave New Haven’s Upper Green, Chief Esserman announced that an area had been set up for protesters to store their belongings until 3 p.m. if they didn’t have immediate transportation. Some two dozen holdouts prepared to be removed, if necessary, from the site.
Public works trucks were put into place on Temple Street to begin taking down tents and carting them away. An 18-wheeler pulled onto the Green, as public workers staffers and cops prepared to swing into action.
Police put up yellow crime-scene tape to separate the public from the encampment on the Upper Green.
The encampment has been in place since last October. A federal judge Monday ordered that the city can remove the tents and the protesters.
Meanwhile, Pattis spent the morning standing outside the New York federal courthouse trying to get the last-minute plea heard. With less than an hour to go, he said he wasn’t having any luck in court.
Pattis said he filed a request for a stay pending appeal just before 9 a.m. In a phone interview at 12:01, he said he had just gotten word that the stay had been granted.
Earlier Tuesday morning, Chief Esserman, Lt. Sweeney and Assistant Chief Luiz Casanova—who normally attend a weekly “CompStat” meeting at police headquarters—were instead among the city officials gathered on the Green, awaiting the anticipated noontime denouement.
Esserman said that police would make a general announcement at noon that they were enforcing the eviction order, then would go tent by tent to make sure they were empty before packing them up.
“No surprises,” Esserman said. “We’ll be coming in from Temple Street.”
“If they need a few minutes, we’ll be happy to give it to them,” he added.
Esserman also agreed to create the temporary storage spot.
In the encampment, “Snake” had set up what occupiers jokingly called a “cop trap” (pictured above), featuring a dangling doughnut.
Snake also set out another homemade booby trap: Banana peels.
Moose said some occupiers anticipated being arrested when the cops came in. He said there was a loose plan for occupiers to link arms and stand their ground, but he wasn’t sure how many people would participate.
Compared to prior days when the camp was threatened with eviction, the crowd Tuesday was initially fairly sparse.
Driffin, who works with homeless people at Columbus House, had helped pack up nine tents in advance of the expected eviction.
Occupier Ray Neal paused for an interview with writing students at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School as the campers awaited their fate—a fate that has been put off again, for now.
During the confusion, occupier Don Montano taunted police with a doughnut on a string. He led a crowd in a chant of, “One, this is a doughnut. Two, it is delicious. Three, you know you want to fucking eat it.”
A fire marshal removed three propane tanks from a tent, over the shouted protest-chants of occupiers.
Artist Robert Greenberg, a critic of Occupy, got into several arguments with occupiers, including with 26-year-old occupy supporter Andres Reyes, a former Marine.