Occupiers Begin Dismantling Camp

Melissa Bailey PhotoOccupy 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.

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posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 17, 2012  1:42pm

“I don’t recommend that anybody get arrested over this beautiful piece of dirt, said Irv. Yea got the one right Irv it is dirt!

Come on walk away with some dignity at this point. This is why people stopped supporting the NHO because they are not about the movement. I can not wait till they are gone so New Haveners can reclaim the movement in our city.

posted by: Ed B on April 17, 2012  2:18pm

In order to get evicted, I think you have to have a contract to pay monies to occupy and a rental agreement/lease.
As far as I know, these guys don’t have a lease or rental agreement and that, I think, makes them trespassers which ought to make the task of removing them easy.

posted by: Curious on April 17, 2012  2:45pm

This is what Occupy is about, not camping/squatting/taunting police:

***Two members of Occupy D.C. were arrested Thursday morning outside a Bank of America branch not far from McPherson square after the latest overnight protest outside the bank’s doors. The protesters were the sixth and seventh to be arrested this week after taking part in what Occupy is calling a “sleepful protest”—slumbering overnight outside the door of a bank branch.***


Occupy New Haven has drifted to off-message that it shouldn’t even call itself Occupy anymore.  It’s just a squatters’ camp.

posted by: anonymous on April 17, 2012  3:27pm

If the Occupiers set up a semi-permanent daytime presence on the sidewalks in front of the Bank of America, Yale New Haven Hospital, the Yale visitor center, or some other institution that pays its CEO well over a million dollars in a country where thousands of children are living out of rusty cars or on beds without sheets, and gave a clear message with signage (like they were doing today in front of the Bank), then I think people might join in.

Although I appreciate that Occupy wants to reduce the Mayor’s salary, squatting on the Green in the face of City requests seems to send the wrong message and discourage others from joining.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 17, 2012  3:57pm

I agree with anonymous and curious 100%

posted by: JoAnna on April 17, 2012  4:32pm

How can you be evicted from a place that you have absolutely no legal ties to in the first place?  Should this even be a question?  I believe this is called trespassing but let’s dress it up and call it a “residence”.  I think I’d like to have my mail forwarded to another address so I can squat there rent-free, tax-free, responsibility-free and then patiently wait for a court system to legally evict me from a place that I have no right residing in, in the first place!  Is the New Haven Green considered a park?  I do believe parks in the city close at sunset.  What is with the ridiculous loop holes?  Whatever good things this organization was trying to accomplish are being completely slef-sabotaged.  As far as I can see, the only thing they have actually accomplished is to prove that apparently, it is possible to live on the Green. 

And thank you, Irv Pinsky.  I’d like to put the Green as my address on a job application to which I am sure I would get denied but let me put it on a voting application and all the rules change and now, apparently, I have rights to that piece of land.  With that kind of legal logic, I can only hope no one decides to forward their mail to my house because despite all the taxed money that I have spent on it, all it takes is a little freedom of speech to have it taken away. 

Bottom line, this movement does not inspire me to politically protest or take action.  It infuriates me. They are alienating people from their own cause.  I’d be much more inspired by a group that used their time and services to actually help people instead of shouting from their tent-tops that they have a right to be there.  Ok, fine, you do, and what did else did you prove besides that?

posted by: VeteranCop on April 17, 2012  6:33pm

All said the group Occupy New Haven made their dream last longer than others, sadly their message was never clear and oftentimes confusing.

They had fun mocking the police, believing that “all” of us are against them. We may be a minority but there are quite a few good free thinking cops in New Haven.

What’s next for all these dedicated souls? I hope they remain active and work to make changes on a local state and federal level. We all know something has to change and that being the Republican’s who failed everyone of us in the 99% during the past 4+ years.

Get the vote out and work to fix our corrupt system.

Peace & Love

posted by: Mister Jones on April 18, 2012  9:37am

Wow Irv cleans up nice!  He’s been talking about the landlord/tenant angle for weeks but only went to Housing Court yesterday.  And his papers got rejected because the clerk wouldn’t take his check?  That’s bizarre. 

Anyhow it does some a bit of a stretch to invoke the anti-lockout law.  Although squatters can be evicted, they can also be arrested for trespass…