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Occupy Tampa protester tests city ordinance in court

TAMPA — When 24-year-old Occupy Tampa protester Alicia Dion was arrested for trespassing at midnight in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in November, the police gave her "60 seconds of due process," her attorney argued in court Monday.

Constitutionally, that may have been plenty of time, suggested Hillsborough Circuit Judge John Conrad. The judge refused Monday to rule Dion's arrest was unconstitutional, but he gave her attorney more time to bolster arguments.

If Conrad upholds the arrest next month, it would confirm the ability of Tampa police to arrest protesters who sleep in public parks during the Republican National Convention in August. Convention organizers expect 10,000 to 15,000 protesters to come to Tampa.

"The judge made it clear, we don't need clarification," said Laura McElroy, a spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department. "That city rule has been on the books for more than 30 years. It's been tested in court hundreds and hundreds of times."

Dion and her boyfriend, Kevin Flynn, 33, were among a small group of Occupy Tampa protesters who tested the city prohibition on Nov. 7. City parks are closed from sunset to sunrise, except during special events. At midnight, the protesters refused three warnings from police to leave the park. Police said the warnings took about a minute.

Dion's attorney Paul Horning argued that the park hours were not well posted. But the state noted that the trespassing ordinance is part of the city code and has long been enforced.

Conrad said the arrest would have been unconstitutional if Dion and the others had been arrested during normal park hours. "Is there a First Amendment right to protest in a park that's closed to the public?" he asked. The judge gave Horning until April 19 to submit further argument. A judge has yet to rule on the arrests of other protesters from that November night.

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Occupy Tampa protester tests city ordinance in court 03/26/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 12:15am]
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