Occupy DC can sue feds over destruction of ‘tent city’

U.S. District Court Judge James E. Boasberg denied a request from the Interior Department to dismiss the suit, which claims that the destruction of the protester’s property infringed upon his constitutional rights. 

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The protester, David Bloem, “set up a tent and display that included a green indoor/outdoor carpet, a blue tarp, a baby stroller, a tent case, a six-inch-high white plastic fence, and six garden stones stenciled with ‘Occupy DC’ and children’s footprints,” according to court documents. 

The National Park Service announced action to clean up the public square being used for the protest as part of anti-camping laws in place, wherein officials “seized and destroyed” the items Bloem considered to be essential to his First Amendment right of freedom of speech. Upon attempts to retrieve his items, the protester says his items had been destroyed – violating his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. 

While the Department of Interior claimed that the case had no standing, Judge Boasberg said that Bloem could be protected by a Supreme Court decision that allows citizens to sue federal employees for violating their constitutional rights, Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents.

The court says “the McPherson Square tent city – and, by extension, at least some of … Bloem’s property found within it – is appropriately alleged to be expressive conduct and is protected by the First Amendment.”

While taking all items from this area may not infringe on those rights, Boasberg continued, the plaintiff has “sufficiently” argued the National Park Service had, in this case. The judge also writes that the items taken must be abandoned, “evidence of a crime or contraband.”

The next action in the case is scheduled for March 5.

The Occupy Wall Street protests began in New York City in 2011 as a response to the financial meltdown of 2008. In October 2011, protesters began to gather and camp in McPherson Square, near downtown D.C., until the National Park Service ordered that the site be torn down in February 2012.