Occupy Denver hearing update: Should First Amendment let people do anything they want?

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Today's hearing over an Occupy Denver lawsuit targeting the city and county the group calls home began promptly with a look at the group's history. Protester and photographer Tanner Spendley took the stand to get at the bleeding heart of why the plaintiff has filed an injunction to protect what it sees as violations of the protest's First Amendment freedom of speech.

In the past month, a little less than half of the occupation's lifetime, participation has plummeted in reaction to tickets for honking and stopping to make donations in support of Occupy Denver.

"Police began ticketing anybody and everybody who would pull over and give a donation," he said.

These historical reminiscences also touched on the group's short stay at Lincoln Park, across the street from its current home at Civic Center Park. When David Lane, the lead attorney for the plaintiff, asked Spendley replied, "It was peaceful on the part of the protesters."

Tanner was asked to speak about several photos he took of the event, including a particularly popular one he took of protester John Sexton being placed in a choke hold by police officers. Here it is.

Sexton himself attended the hearing, marking a silent but attention-grabbing figure in the second row of onlookers when his picture hit screens inside the courtroom.

The list of witnesses on behalf of the plaintiff is extensive: After Spendley, Daniel Garcia, whose story repeatedly came up with other witnesses as the impetus for much of the decrease in participation. Garcia was ticketed for honking in support of the Occupation, although the first-year DU law student discovered yesterday that his charge has since been dropped yesterday. (Westword was repeatedly cited during mentions of his story.) However, Garcia said he remains wary of visiting the occupation and has yet to bring his car back for fear it might be impounded.

"I don't want to get pegged for another ordinance I'm not aware of," Garcia stated.

Counting Garcia, three plaintiffs have now seen charges against them dropped. The same thing happened for both Natalie Wyatt, who was ticketed for using a compressed air horn, and Bert Schultz, who rode his bike onto the sidewalk to record her ticket. The defense brought up the dropped charges in each case as a means of pointing out the witnesses are no longer affected by their actions, but the plaintiff reinforced the symbolic consequences of ticketing for general participation.

Catherine Lindsey later testified about her new reticence to participate (and even to honk) because of Garcia's story and others. "It's a small way to contribute, but it's meaningful," she said of the honking she no longer does.

Amber Lynn Restorick told the court that her arrest for obstructing a passageway and disobeying a lawful order during the demonstration on October 15 made her "afraid of my government."

Rob Piper, spoke about the overall decline in participation due to legal enforcement, which he said has been confusing to work with, particularly on the subject of encumbrances. "It's virtually impossible for me to obey that law because there has been zero instruction as to what an encumbrance is," he said. Patricia Hughes testified to the extent of the property removed from the occupation, which she estimates to have included approximately $10,000 in medical equipment over the span of the movement so far.

The defense's counter-questioning has focused on the witnesses as individuals -- dropped charges, the span of what they have personally encountered, the limits of their participation inside the movement. At one point earlier this morning, one attorney for the defense attempted to bring drug use at Civic Center Park intothe discussion, but the line of questioning prompted a quick objection and was dismissed based on relevance.

The same thing occurred with the last question directed at Daniel Garcia by the defense -- easily the strangest so far: "Mr. Garcia, do you think the First Amendment guarantees you the right to do whatever you want whenever you want?"

More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: David Lane to use Mayor Michael Hancock's honks against him in court."

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