Occupy Denver: Biggest riot squad presence to date, pepper bullets, multiple arrests (PHOTOS)

Update, 11:01 p.m. October 29: Twenty people were arrested during what has been Occupy Denver's most violent day in weeks. All evidence of the Thunderdome and the front desk has been removed, and officers offered protesters the chance to claim their belongings one at a time as the area was cleared. Several protesters have made trips to the hospital for injuries, and one man, Phillip Becerra, was shot in the face with pepper bullets. Becerra was injured on his face and neck during the afternoon's first outbreak away from the tents. Another protester was injured when a police motorcycle rolled over his foot. "They pepper sprayed me and I fell and then went to pour water on my face," says Becerra, who returned to the area later in the night. "When I got back up, I was shot in the face. I had to go to the hospital to have the wound treated."

Although parts of Broadway, 14th and Colfax were closed down for hours during the tense evening, traffic has now been reopened across the board. Five people were arrested during the initial outbreak, and fifteen earned arrests during the later part of the evening, adding an additional twenty to the 57 Occupy Denver-related arrests from previous occasions. Two of these arrests are reported to come with felony charges, while the rest, all misdemeanors, include two juvenile offenders. During a particularly poignant moment of the evening, Occupy Denver was separated by a police barricade from the Bill of Rights, which was printed on a poster and attached to a wooden stand as a symbol for the camp.

By 9 p.m., more police officers than protesters remained in the area, and a group of Hare Krishna followers, who had been dancing and singing during the heated events, served vegan food to those who remained. The situation died down quickly once the area was cleared of tents, the Thunderdome and the welcome area, and protesters organized the remaining salvageable items in addition to their belongings. Much of the material for the Thunderdome and the front desk was placed directly into a Public Works truck brought in to dispose of waste.

"The entire situation adds attention to our cause and gives us a voice in all of this," says protester and Westword profile subject Matthew Velasquez. "The tension here today was incredible, and it's not going away anytime soon. We're not going away."

Page down to read our original post, complete with additional photos of the evening's events. Original item, 7:24 p.m. October 29:: There are few scarier sights than that of 100 police officers putting on gas masks. That view, along with the largest showing of police force yet, graced Occupy Denver's weekly rally today when state and city police reacted to the renewed presence of tents. The unrest was met with pepper spray, batons, an unknown number of arrests and at least one protester being shot out of a tree with a round of pepper bullets.

In addition to including the largest show of police attention and force the occupation has faced yet, today's demonstration was also its earliest interaction with the police. Officers began to close in on the camp around 2:30, and Broadway between Colfax and 14th was completely closed off by 3 p.m. By 5 p.m., more than thirty police vehicles and 200 police officers, all in full riot gear, surrounded Civic Center Park before organizing and flanking the group. The scene has become a routine one and marks the third round of large-scale arrests and police intervention in a period of just over two weeks.

"It was a great party until the police crashed it with hundreds of rubber bullet guns," says protester Kerri Kellerman, who was arrested during both of the first two rounds. "We keep putting on peaceful protests, and they keep crashing them until it's not peaceful at all anymore once they're here." Early in the day, Occupy organizers called out on social media for people to show up in mass numbers for the Saturday rally to support efforts to "take back the park." This focused mostly on setting up eleven tents as a symbol of the movement's freedom and a reminder of the need it faces for shelter from increasingly cold weather. The majority of the tents were reclaimed from the state patrol yesterday by protesters with IDs after they were removed from the group's previous site in Lincoln Park.

By the time the day's approximately 2,000-person march rounded its way back to the campsite, with a long stop in front of the Capitol building, officers had mobilized and formed ranks around the area in preparation. During the early afternoon tension, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter spoke to protesters about the situation and emphasized a need for both sides to scale back.

At about 3:30 p.m., the first round of violent interaction occurred on the side of the park opposite the tents. Officers moved in on the gathering with pepper bullet guns already out and pointed -- an increase in aggression compared to the beginnings of previous demonstrations. As protesters grouped to shout chants at the cops and form a barrier between the officers and the camp, police opened fire on the group and openly sprayed tear gas at any occupiers standing in the way. One protester, Andrew Cleres, was shot from a tree with an entire round of pepper bullets while taking photos of the scene.

"I was just sitting in the tree and didn't confront the police at all, but when they started shooting, I was in their way and received the brunt of a lot of bullets," Cleres says. The result can be seen in bloody holes covering his right arm. "Then people tried to defend me, and they got shot, too." Today's situation can easily be called the most tense interaction between police and protesters so far, as protesters were sprayed and shot with much less delay than previous encounters. In the bright afternoon, protesters were dragged to police vans after being arrested. Police officials have not yet released an official number of arrests.

After the first round of interaction, police waited more than an hour as they organized in a line, baton to baton, and moved all protesters off the sidewalk. The camp was then split into two parties, one in Lincoln Park and a larger gathering in Civic Center Park, and the two sides were blocked from joining each other while police delivered a thirty-minute dispersal warning. Protesters were informed of their violation of city ordinance 39-7 and warned that they must disperse and leave the park or risk being arrested for unlawful activity on a city park.

As a handful of people evacuated the scene, the police force grew in size to at least 200, with one officer walking the length of the formation and passed out extra riot batons from inside of a cardboard box. All the while, the Thunderdome continued to serve beets, and its volunteers organized a large batch of rags soaked in vinegar to protect against pepper spray. After the thirty minutes ran out and another five-minute warning expired, police moved in on the camp again to rip down and remove all the tents, arresting those who stood in their way.

One of the arrests is said to be a seventeen-year-old girl who frequently visits the occupation.

Click through for more photos. More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Stephen Lidanne arrested for occupying an igloo after hours."
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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple