- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The last of the Occupy D.C. encampment was swept out of McPherson Square earlier this week, but a dozen protesters began their first trial day Wednesday answering for their actions.

Twelve young men and women appeared in D.C. Superior Court to fight charges stemming from an early December standoff with police about a wooden structure erected in the federal park.

The clean, quiet courtroom was a far cry from when U.S. Park Police and the defendants met roughly six months ago, when the Northwest park was swollen with tents, shacks and lean-tos. Unlike their days of occupation, where heavy layers and dark masks were the wardrobe of choice, many of the defendants appeared in suit coats and prim dresses, though one or two sported a T-shirt or camouflage.

Park Police arrived at the park Dec. 4 to find a large wood structure being erected in the southern half of the park. Officers shut down a portion of the park surrounding the structure, which had no permit and had not been declared stable by a city inspector.

Over the course of nine hours, the police presence as well as the crowd of curious onlookers would grow to hundreds. A city inspector declared the structure dangerous, and when nearly two dozen protesters refused to leave the inside or top of the structure, the arrests started. By the end of the night, Park Police had brought in a SWAT unit, as well as a truck with a cherry picker and an enormous inflatable mat for some protesters to land on.

On Wednesday, prosecutors finished questioning two of their three witnesses. One of them was U.S. Park Police Lt. Robert LaChance, who described a loud and energetic crowd watching his officers attempt to remove the last of 23 people from the 25-foot structure.

“He was very very determined not to be pulled off the rafters,” Lt. LaChance said of David Givens, the last protester on the structure. “The [cherry picker] bucket clearly wasn’t going to suffice. We were concerned about trying to pry him off without hurting him. At one point, the structure gave a loud crack in one of its beams.”

In all, 31 people were arrested, most for disobeying police orders during an emergency and crossing police lines. Mr. Givens also was charged with lewd conduct and disorderly behavior for urinating off the top off the structure in plain sight of officers and crowd members.

Mr. Givens and the 11 other protesters are being represented by attorney Jeffrey Light.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Wingo issued bench warrants for Georgia Pearce and Solomon Summers, who did not appear in court and round out the number of occupiers facing charges to 14.

Assistant Attorney General Sean Farrelly led the prosecution’s opening statements, highlighting the fact that construction of the structure was neither approved nor permitted in the park and that officers had given protesters three chances to leave the cordoned-off area before starting arrests.

Despite his failed efforts to win a dismissal of the charges, Mr. Light said he was pleased with the day’s proceedings, adding that the government now “has to prove an emergency situation” despite not forcing any of the hundreds of protesters from the wooden structure for nine hours.

Lt. LaChance mentioned several times that the officers had no idea whether the structure was safe to perch on. He did admit during cross-examination, however, that had the city’s inspector deemed the structure safe, the next decision as to what to do about the crowd and protesters “would have been above my level of command.”

He also said that his experience handling the incident was “a very unique case with someone putting up a structure like this in a park.”

Mr. Farrelly, who declined to comment after court adjourned, also called Sgt. Mark Adamchik of the Park Police to testify that he had seen Mr. Given urinate off the top of the roof and expose his genitals.

On Thursday, the prosecution is expected to call its last witness — the man who inspected the structure in December.

Mr. Light said he plans on calling four witnesses, including an expert architect.

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