- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2012

The wooden structure that prompted a nine-hour standoff between police and Occupy D.C. members was safe and strong enough to withstand wind, snow and the weight of at least six grown men, an architect said Monday in defense of protesters on trial for disobeying officers.

Kashuo Bennett, an architect with design firm RTKL, told a D.C. Superior Court Judge that he “had a great deal of confidence” in the 25-foot structure, and it “seemed safe to me.”

“It was safe to stand in and around, to occupy as one would a cabin or garage,” Mr. Bennett said.

Asked about the temporary structure standing up to snow or strong winter winds, he said he thought “the other tents in the area would be in bigger trouble before that.”

It was the third day of testimony in a trial in which 13 young men and women face charges of disobeying police during an emergency. One man in that group faces additional charges related to urinating in public.

The protesters were arrested Dec. 4, after a day spent arguing with U.S. Park Police about the building of the structure in the southern end of McPherson Square, the site of the Occupy D.C. tent city.

More than 30 people were arrested by the end of the night, roughly half because they refused to leave the base of the structure or come down from its rafters.

Eventually, police would remove all of the protesters from the structure, but it required Special Weapons and Tactics officers, a cherry-picker truck and an enormous inflatable jumping bag.

Prosecutors argued that the protesters did not have a building permit or approval to build the structure. A city inspector who observed the structure in December deemed it dangerous.

On Monday, Sean Farrelly, an assistant attorney general for the District, pointed out that Mr. Bennett had only seen the structure from afar - when he went to see what all the fuss was about in December - and studied photographs and renderings, so he could not be completely sure of the structure’s safety.

Mr. Farrelly said he would have a rebuttal witness with an expertise in building codes and inspections to challenge Mr. Bennett’s safety claims.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Wingo said she hoped to “be able to resolve” the case on Tuesday.

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Light said he has one more witness to call, a member of Occupy D.C. not on trial, but he was not sure whether any of the defendants would want to speak for themselves.

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