19 arrested as police clear Occupy Salt Lake tent city from Pioneer Park; Most participants left voluntarily

Most participants left voluntarily

Published: Saturday, Nov. 12 2011 2:00 p.m. MST

Occupy Salt Lake protestors Ron Hardy, left, and Roy Begay break down a tent before vacating Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Police arrested 19 people while clearing the Occupy Salt Lake tent city from Pioneer Park Saturday night, but the eviction was conducted largely without incident.

Participants were asked by police at sundown to take down their tents, pack their belongings and relocate. Most complied. Their belongings were taken to a private warehouse for temporary storage, as arranged by homeless advocate John Netto. He also organized transportation in limousines and buses for people living in the park who wanted to stay in local homeless shelters or join the Occupy Ogden movement.

Netto said he and his wife, a Presbyterian minister, have cultivated a relationship of trust with many homeless people in Utah. Nettto, a supporter of the Occupy Salt Lake movement, said he got involved to ensure no one was injured while police cleared the park. Some of the people in the park "are quite ill" and needed to dealt with kindly, he said.

Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said the park was cleared in a peaceful manner thanks to the assistance of community members and the professional manner in which Salt Lake police officers conducted themselves.

"It's gone as well as we could have expected," Burbank said.

As for Netto arranging rides in limousines, Burbank joked, "I think he set a standard that will be hard to compete with."

Salt Lake City public works crews began cleaning the park even before it was cleared. Burbank said the immediate plan was to clear the park of property, close it, and allow city crews to thoroughly clean it. Burbank said city officials are working on establishing another protest space nearby and would allow the occupiers to have two tents in the park — a makeshift education center and kitchen, although no cooking equipment would be permitted.

While the protestors could return to the park, they will not be permitted to camp overnight. The park curfew, Burbank said, is a half hour after sunset, according to city ordinance.

Most people cooperated with police. As arrests were made, Occupy Salt Lake participants collectively shouted the person's name and thanked them for their sacrifice. 

Representatives of the ACLU of Utah were in the park to observe the activities of police as the park was cleared. Acting legal director Joe Cohn said the ACLU had concerns about "unnecessary restrictions on First Amendment activities."

While he understood the health and safety concerns raised by the police chief and city officials, Cohn said, "We must ask, if someone died of an overdose at the homeless shelter, would they be closing the homeless shelter?

"We think this was an overreaction to events leading up to tonight."

District 7 Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen said he understood Burbank's and Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker's concerns about health and safety in Pioneer Park, but he was "very disappointed to see the park cleared." Simonsen said he would work with city officials to ensure protestors had other options to continue to assemble peacefully.

Shortly before sunset, some 30 law enforcement vehicles — police cruisers, jail buses and mobile command posts — lined 400 South along Pioneer Park in preparation for the operation.

Burbank said the department was prepared for every contingency but it was his intention to conduct the operation as peacefully as possible. He entered the park first, flanked by a couple of officers, to hear the concerns of Occupy Salt Lake participants and explain that officers would assist them in clearing their belongings. 

While some were arrested when they resisted police and incited others, most complied with the officers' instructions.

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