Bet you didn't know that the police, without going to court or giving a reason, can order you not to enter public property like the State House — and if you disobey you could spend up to six months in jail.
Occupy Augusta protesters now know this. While waiting to see if a federal judge will allow them to continue to camp in state-owned Capitol Park — a decision expected by Wednesday, December 7 — Capitol Police have weakened the encampment by forbidding nine supporters and one long-time occupant from entering the park, the Blaine House grounds, the State House, or any state property in Augusta.
In an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, the nine supporters had been arrested November 27 after refusing police orders to leave the Blaine House grounds. They were protesting the state's move to shut down the camp and were calling attention to the Occupy movement's complaints about corporate control of government and income inequality.
Soon after, the nine were blindsided by what are called criminal trespass notices, which police can give you at their discretion. (The owner of a private property can similarly place his or her property off-limits.) On the notice the protesters received there's no expiration date.
"To tell me I can't go into the State House, our seat of government, is the worst offense against the First Amendment," said Diane Messer, of Liberty, a longtime political activist and 22-year Army veteran.
Kim Cormier, a Benton selectwoman who was also arrested, asked, "What if I want to lobby in the Legislature? What if I want to speak at a public hearing?"
Capitol Police referred comment to Stephen McCausland, the Maine State Police spokesman, who said he didn't know why the Augusta locations had been put off-limits to the group. He also said he didn't know how the order could be appealed.
Occupy Augusta attorney Lynne Williams, of Bar Harbor, the National Lawyers Guild member who has asked federal Judge Nancy Torresen, in Bangor, for an injunction to prevent Capitol Police from clearing out the camp, said trespass notices are being served on Occupy protesters in other cities. Williams said she would fight in state court to get them lifted.
"The nine defendants can't go to their arraignments," she said, because courthouses are state property. She called the orders "ridiculous."
(Portland police have served trespass notices on several people, but those bans are limited to Lincoln Park and have only been issued to people involved in alleged wrongdoing there.)
Zachary Heiden, chief attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said the Augusta trespass notices undermine the constitutionally protected right of people to petition their government to redress grievances. "I don't know of a case, ever," forbidding someone to go to the State House, he said.
In addition, a key figure in the camp and a former Augusta City Council candidate, Jarody (who goes by one name), has been served with a summons for criminal threatening — a charge punishable by up to a year in jail. He allegedly threatened someone at the camp with a sledgehammer, McCausland said. Jarody, too, has been served with a trespass notice.
He said the charge against him "definitely looks like a piece of strategy" to damage Occupy Augusta.