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Police arrest 29 Occupy Tampa protesters after asking them to vacate park

TAMPA — One by one, they were handcuffed, pulled from the grass and loaded into a police van. All 29 of them.

In the biggest night of arrests since the Occupy Tampa movement began three months ago, police charged demonstrators with trespassing in a public park after hours and resisting arrest without violence late Thursday. Both charges are misdemeanors.

Officers also used a city ordinance to issue trespass warnings to those who were arrested. The warning is effective in all city parks. Violators could face penalties that include a $500 fine, up to 60 days in jail and as much as six months' probation.

The demonstrators were taken into custody during a peaceful protest in which the group refused to leave Riverfront Park, police said.

Susie Shannon, 59, said the officer who arrested her was very respectful.

"I think that is a viable option for all officers," she said.

As she sat in a paddy wagon with seven other women, an officer told Shannon that she was getting a trespass warning that would not allow her to return to any city park or public facility. But no one explained how long the warning lasts or the penalties for a violation, she said.

Officers had been issuing trespass warnings to people who refused to remove their prohibited items from parks, but they only recently informed protesters that the trespassing ban extends to all parks, said Christopher Kuleci, 33, of Gulfport.

For some of those arrested Thursday night, it was the first time civil disobedience landed them in a holding cell. For others, the arrests are beginning to add up.

Daiquiri Renee Jones, 22, of Tampa has been arrested four times amid Occupy activities of the past month, state records show.

Sitting on the pavement outside the jail Friday afternoon after his release, Jones reflected on his most recent run-in with police.

He said the arrests might hurt him on a personal level but they send an important message about the movement.

"Our supporters see these arrests, and they see that no matter what, we're still here," he said. "We keep coming back."

About 10 p.m. Thursday, more than 100 members of Occupy Tampa marched to Riverfront Park from Curtis Hixon Park — where the movement has been based — to defend their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.

Previous run-ins with law enforcement have hinged largely on the use of sidewalks and Curtis Hixon Park.

"The Constitution says we have a right to assemble," said Pepe Kovanis, 30. "It doesn't say when, where or how."

As the protesters began to set up tents, Tampa police officers approached the group and told them the park was closed. They asked them to leave.

Instead, a group of more than 50 demonstrators linked arms and sat down in the park, chanting, police said.

Officers gave the group several warnings, eventually prompting about 20 individuals to leave the park, police said.

Kovanis, who had been arrested in October, was one of them.

"We were standing off to the side, but we couldn't see anything that was happening," he said. "It was kind of scary."

The remaining protesters were told if they didn't leave, they would be charged with trespassing, police said.

Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the officers "backed away" and gave the group "ample time to recognize its best course of action" before the officers approached again.

Two of the 29 were arrested after they left the park and returned, police said.

Jones said some protesters, who refused to stand, were dragged down a hill to a police van.

Several bystanders chanted, reciting an oath of public service to the officers.

• • •

During a news conference Friday night, Kuleci said the police are not the enemy:

"The officers that evicted us last night are no more a source of the problem than the deputies evicting people from their homes across Florida."

He said the officers are a part of 99 percent of Americans who do not control the country's wealth or power structure. The movement began as a way to shed light on the disparities of wealth distribution.

Police have said they want to avoid the kind of confrontations that have marked similar protests around the country, most notably in New York City, where hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters have been arrested.

Occupy demonstrators said the back-and-forth between group members and police has taken away from their root message.

"The cops are making it out to be us against them," Kovanis said. "But we don't want it to be that way. We want to talk about real issues — greed, money, politics — but instead we have to deal with this."

Several protesters said there seems to be no end in sight to the arrests.

"People don't understand the kind of harassment we're dealing with," said Bailey Riley, 18, who was arrested Thursday night. "We're not going to stop, and they're not going to stop."

Police have countered that they want the protesters' voices to be heard, as long as they respect the law and do not infringe on the rights of those who live and work in Tampa.

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@sptimes.com.

Tampa police provided these names of demonstrators arrested at Riverfront Park on Thursday night:

Kelsy E. Omorrow, 20, Coral Springs

George D. Scharrou, 24, Bradenton

Ronald W. Williams, 25, Tampa

Carolyn J. Fernandez, 24, Largo

Daiquiri R. Jones, 22, Tampa

Maria M. Agosto, 52, Gulfport

Nicholas R. Windholz, 26, Lutz

Katie M. Christotilis, 23, Thonotosassa

James R. Dunson, 26, St. Petersburg

Christopher M. Cope, 18, Largo

Tommy L. Butler III, 25, Gainesville

Brian M. Williams, 22, Brandon

George R. Carylon, 21, High Springs

Timothy J. Sommers, 23, Dade City

Daniel Greenspan, 23, Tampa

Elizabeth J. Toms, 20, Marathon

Susan G. Shannon, 59, Tampa

Dylan J. Wallis, 19, Dunedin

Michael L. Freincle, 24, Brandon

Sarah M. Blair, 28, St. Petersburg

Mia S. DeFazio, 20, Clearwater

William J. Livsey, 47, Valrico

Cari S. Welsh, 27, Largo

Bailey E. Riley, 18, Palm Harbor

Dania E. Sixto, 22, Tampa

Bettejo M. Indelicato, 50, Spring Hill

Kade A. Kelly, 30, Tampa

Derek A. English, 24, Tampa

Owen Gather, 31, no city given

Police arrest 29 Occupy Tampa protesters after asking them to vacate park 12/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 11:23pm]

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