Protesters press on after loss in court

By David Skolnick


Now that a magistrate has rejected Occupy Youngstown’s request for a temporary restraining order to permit the group to use a tent and burn barrel in Central Square, its members are focusing on a Dec. 1 court hearing.

The group and 11 of its members filed a request Wednesday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for a TRO as well as for preliminary and permanent injunctions against the city, its mayor and police chief.

The group contends the city violated the rights of Occupy Youngstown members to free speech and assembly as well as to protection against unreasonable seizure of their possessions.

City police and firefighters confiscated a tent, burn barrel, three chairs and other items Friday. City officials say they don’t object to the group’s picketing in Central Square, but the tent and burn barrel as well as tarps, sleeping bags and wood violate city ordinances.

“No one is preventing their ability to speak,” said city Law Director Anthony Farris. “We are making no attempt to remove them, stop them from speaking or holding signs. We’re not inhibiting speech. We are just enforcing our ordinances the same way we enforce ordinances in any other part of the city.”

The filing also sought the return of the items taken from Occupy Youngstown last week.

Police Chief Rod Foley said his department returned the tent to Jim Villani, who owns the Pig Iron Press and is an Occupy Youngstown member, on Wednesday before the hearing. Villani, with a receipt for the purchase, went to the police station to claim it.

“I told him not to put the tent back up,” Foley said.

A few hours after Kim Akins, an attorney representing the group, filed the requests Wednesday, Magistrate Timothy G. Welsh rejected the TRO request.

Before the decision to deny the TRO, Akins said: “The court was impressed by the number of issues raised.”

But in his decision to deny the temporary restraining order, Welsh wrote: “This case presents not only conflicting factual issues but conflicting constitutional issues.”

A TRO is sought to keep the status quo, Welsh wrote. Because the tent and burn barrel were confiscated by city police and firefighters last week, the group’s TRO request “does not preserve the status quo, but, rather, alters it,” he wrote.

The two sides will be in front of Welsh on Dec. 1 to argue Occupy Youngstown’s request for a preliminary injunction to permit the tent, barrel and other items to return to the group’s downtown protest location.

Mayor Charles Sammarone said he met Monday with a few of Occupy members to discuss the ongoing controversy.

Sammarone said he “enjoyed talking with them,” adding he agrees with their positions on working to reduce poverty and unemployment.

But, as mayor, Sammarone said he has to uphold the laws of the city.

“I give them credit for going through the courts,” he said. “They did it the right way.”

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