Occupy Seattle Attorney Says Arrests Violate First Amendment

By Josh Feit October 6, 2011

I just got off the phone with the pro-bono attorney who's representing the eight protesters who were charged today with obstructing officers when the police made the Occupy Seattle protesters take down their tents yesterday .[pullquote]"The city made a political decision and are trying to turn it into a criminal case ... when you do that you run into problems with the First Amendment." —Defense attorney for the Occupy Seattle protesters.[/pullquote]

Attorney Kevin Trombold told PubliCola, "I'm happy to represent activists who are speaking out about how terrible things are." Trombold says he'd been following the protests on TV and went down to the jail this morning "to offer my service."

Trombold, a private criminal defense attorney, says "the city made a political decision and they are trying to turn it into a criminal case. ... When you do that you run into problems with the First Amendment."

The political decision? Trombold says "the mayor just made a decision, 'I think I'll just say no tents,'" adding that "people are allowed to put up tents in the park. They do it all the time."

Trombold noted that the city "knows this," and so is filing charges under state code which gives police broader discretion, "but it's still unlawful," he says, "for police to just decide what your First Amendment rights are."

Trombold has represented homeless encampments such as Tent City and Nickelsville and has gotten illegal camping charges dismissed.

His eight clients were released—after this morning's charging hearing at the jail court—and will face trial at Seattle Municipal Court on November 14. The court said the defendants could to not return to Westlake Park as a condition of release.

The city attorney's office says they'll be sending out a statement about the case later today. In the mean time spokeswoman Kimberly Mills simply confirm that the city chose to file charges under the state statute and had no comment on Trombold's legal argument.

UPDATE: City Attorney Pete Holmes issued a press release late today, which says in part:
he City Attorney’s Office on Thursday afternoon charged eight Occupy Seattle protesters with the gross misdemeanor of obstructing a law enforcement officer for refusing park rangers’ requests to dismantle their tents at Westlake Park and being physically uncooperative with Seattle Police Department officers.

City Attorney Pete Holmes praised SPD officers for the way they handled the arrests, saying they had “undertaken this task with professionalism, integrity and restraint.”

He emphasized that “protesters were offered the option to be peaceably arrested and released without going to jail; understand that only those who refused this path were booked into jail.”
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