In a video captured on Occupy Boulder's livestream earlier this week, Boulder Police Officer Abel Ramos is seen presenting the gathering with "good news... The Chief of Police and the county commissioner have entered into this agreement, and we're just going to let you do what you do. You guys enjoy your protest."
Since then, twelve protesters have been given citations. If this story had a soundtrack, you would now hear a record scratch.
Misinformation runs rampant through the Occupy movement, at both national and local levels, and the best explanation is that Boulder is its most recent victim. The protesters standing next to officer Ramos appear elated: "Did you hear that?" one asks. "Bring your tents!"
Here's the video.
Cut to 4 a.m. Monday, when the group faced a warning to remove all tents.
Only a little while later, Occupy Boulder faced its first eleven citations, a round-up of charges for camping, public urination and one animal violation for the presence of a dog on Pearl Street. Because the group had only set up six tents, the camping violations were shared by multiple people inside them.
The question, then, is what happened to that agreement? "Officer Ramos gave misinformation, unintentionally, to the Occupy Boulder people," says Kim Kobel, public information officer for the Boulder Police and Fire Departments. "I'm not sure where he got that."
From there, the reality grows slightly confusing. Representatives of the Boulder Police Department and the County Commissioners' office have spoken about the issue, but they haven't come to any special decision that contradicts city ordinances. Occupy Boulder currently maintains its presence on the county courthouse lawn, a small island of county property inside the city -- which means it remains subject to Boulder's no-camping policy.
"It kind of depends on what camping is and isn't," says Dan Rowland, spokesman for the County Commissioners' office. "You can set up a tent, but you can't sleep in it or be out there cooking food and eating and camping, essentially. That's a city of Boulder ordinance, and it does cover the courthouse plaza, even though that's county property. We are asking that the police continue to enforce that."
"Having a tent doesn't constitute camping," Kobel echoes. "Sleeping in it does."
The policy for this enforcement dictates that first-time offenders receive a ticket for their actions; the next time, they will be arrested. Overnight, another protester faced a citation, the group's twelfth, for sleeping in a tent, and confusion about the policy still seems to be the norm.
"It was probably a misunderstanding or lack of clarity," Rowland says. "That's something we're hoping to clear up. We need to let people know that camping is illegal."
The space would operate under separate regulations if the group applied for a permit, generally allocated for parties of more than 25 people. Even then, the rules forbid staking anything into the ground and remaining on the property past 11 p.m. -- although Kobel admits an exception was made.
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"Last week, there was one tent on the courthouse lawn, and it was more of a symbolic tent for that Occupy Boulder protester," she says. "He was not sleeping in it, and the county commissioners allowed that tent as a symbol of what they are protesting. But then there were others."
When the tent was joined by a handful of others Sunday night, BPD officers enforced the no-camping ordinance. While county officials have so far abstained from requesting that the protesters be charged with trespassing on county property, the potential to do so remains. If the group is consistently larger than 25 people, it may also be subject to the need for a permit. "It's simply against the law," Kobel says, "and BPD can't decide whether to enforce one law over another law."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: David Lane on city collusion denial, injunction over honks, donations & more."