Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
NEW ORLEANS -- A judge sided with the Occupy NOLA movement Tuesday, ruling that protestors can remain in Duncan Plaza for at least the next week.
U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey ruled in favor of Occupy NOLA, granting a temporary restraining order for seven days. Protesters can stay in Duncan Plaza in tents, overnight, with several restrictions.
Zainey reiterated that this was not a final ruling on the issue itself, but just to hold things as they are until a full hearing can be held.
Bill Quigley, attorney for Occupy NOLA, said the protestors would be heading back to Duncan Plaza Tuesday night.
“This is a huge victory,” he said. “There is almost nobody who has been kicked out and allowed to come back.”
Acting City Attorney Richard Cortizas said the city “respectfully disagrees” with Zainey’s ruling.
“For the past 61 days, the city worked cooperatively and reasonably with individuals who encamped in the park,” he said in a released statement. “Today, we successfully cleaned the park, housed homeless individuals, and reduced the threats to public health and safety. We will comply with the order of the court, but we remain deeply concerned that allowing the re-encampment of Duncan Plaza poses a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare of those encamped there and to the community at large.”
Cortizas said the encampment has cost the city “well over” $50,000.
It was long before dawn when 150 New Orleans police officers placed barricades around Duncan Plaza and then moved in with force.
They closed down the camp peacefully, emptying the plaza and escorting some of the homeless to find new and better shelter. Only one man was arrested when he requested it.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the two-month Occupy NOLA protest was becoming a health and safety issue, and he gave plenty of notice the crackdown was coming.
“I feel like we timed it very well. I think that the notices that were given were respectable and were clear. I think the amount of time that we gave people to move out was thoughtful,” Landrieu said.
As the park was cleared, cleanup crews moved in, removing tents and debris and then pressure washing the area.
But attorneys for the protestors were stunned by the action.
“The city attorney yesterday had told us that no eviction or no enforcement would happen until the court hearing this morning at 10:30 in the federal eastern district court,” said Alison McCrary, CSJ, attorney for the National Lawyers Guild.
“We believe that we are operating under law that’s existing and that’s appropriate, and we’ve given notice since Friday that the time had come to clear the park.
A scheduled federal court conference on the protestor’s request for a temporary restraining order to allow them to stay in the park took on new meaning after the closure. Protestors’ attorneys called the city’s actions unprecedented, and city attorneys found motions to dismiss the case.
Zainey sat down with both sides in his chambers to see if an agreement could be reached.