Ten Occupy San Diego protesters were arrested early Wednesday as police again moved the group out of its downtown encampment near City Hall. Those detained at or near a grassy area outside the Civic Theatre included eight men and two women, ages 18 to 28.
All were jailed but one protester who was cited for "excessive noise with a sound amplification device," and released after his bullhorn was taken away. Cleaning crews arrived at 7 a.m. and the protesters had returned to resume a nearly six-week-old protest against corporate greed by mid-morning.
Their movement also shifted to court Wednesday as lawyers for the protesters sought to bar the city and its police officers from using a particular provision in the San Diego municipal code to stop them from having possessions at their gatherings.
Police said sleeping and personal belongings will no longer be tolerated at the site.
The total number of arrests at the protest is now 89 since it began with a march of 1,500 people downtown on Oct. 7. More recently, dozens of protesters have been staying overnight in the area.
Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long said Wednesday's arrests came after the crowd was ordered to remove its personal property and the group who remained was declared an unlawful assembly.
Those taken to county jail included two people arrested for failing to leave the unlawful assembly, and seven others arrested for resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer, Captain Mark Jones said. Two of those detained had been arrested previously at the protest, one Oct. 14 and another Oct. 28, the dates of the two other police sweeps through the area.
Executive Assistant Chief David Ramirez, the department's second-in-command, said the latest sweep had been planned for a couple days, and he bristled at the characterization of it as a raid, calling it instead an enforcement action that was needed to protect passersby and protesters alike.
He said it was necessary because fighting and unsanitary conditions had increased at the camp.
At least one to three police officers per eight-hour shift are moved from the city's eight other police divisions to the Occupy San Diego protest each day to monitor the crowd, Long said.
Long said the department had lacked the personnel to do it Monday night so had waited a day. He stressed the sweep was not a retaliation for the protesters' march to police headquarters Tuesday night.
"We are not going to allow people to set up tents, canopies, bring sleeping bags," Ramirez said. "This is not about letting protesters create an area where they can sleep, illegally lodge, set up tables, canopies, but we will allow people to come and protest peacefully and lawfully."
Outside the 10 a.m. police news conference, three Occupy San Diego protesters expressed displeasure with the latest police action. The activists wanted to attend the news conference, but they were told only those with proper media credentials would be admitted.
Chris McKay, 44, held his sign to a tinted window that read: "Please Excuse The Inconvenience We Are Trying To Change The World."
Before the news conference got underway, he yelled at police spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown: "We're not going anywhere."
Brown responded: "Nobody's asking you to."
Afterward, McKay, who has been protesting since the third day of the occupation, said activists could start protesting in front of the police station and the mayor's house.
"Occupy is a full-time occupation," he said. McKay later added: "They humiliate us at our house, I'm going to humiliate them at their house."
Alan Riner, 52, was at the camp Wednesday morning when the police showed up en masse. He said most everybody cooperated during the removal and that most of the arrests happened when protesters tried to cross a police line to get their belongings.
"It wasn't as violent this time as previous encounters," said Riner, who has been protesting since the fourth day. "These officers have gotten to know everybody."
Ramirez and Long said the police department is calculating overtime and other costs it has incurred because of the Occupy San Diego protests. They declined to give a rough estimate of those costs or say when a figure would be released other than Long calling them "significant."
Oakland recently pegged the cost to the city of its Occupy protest at $2.4 million.
Police officials said the timing of their sweep was not related to the ouster of protesters in New York City, the most high-profile of this fall's "Occupy Wall Street," which led to 200 arrests.
"We are going to do our best to enforce that, that they are not allowed to sleep there," Ramirez said. "We've been saying that since day one. It's not based on what occurred in New York, but at the same time, I think what happened in New York supports our position here even though the laws are different."
Long said he has been on two conference calls related to the nation's Occupy protests with 18-20 police chiefs from major U.S. cities such as Seattle; Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Those calls were arranged by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington D.C.-based professional organization focused on police practices.
Another conference calls with mayors and police officials from around the country was to take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Ramirez said at a 10 a.m. news conference.
The police department cited a provision of the municipal code that bans personal belongings being stored on public property -- section 54.0110 -- to have a gathering of about 60 or 70 people clear out their tarps, tables, sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, clothing, food and trash.
As they had been planning for days, lawyers representing Occupy San Diego protesters filed a legal challenge to that provision of the municipal code in U.S. federal court in San Diego Wednesday morning, calling it vague and overly broad. (See a link to the document on this page.)
"If you set a coffee cup on a park bench, they can charge you," attorney Bryan Pease said.
Pease said if the protesters' case is successful, it would make it easier for them to return to their protest site and set up things like tables and other possessions, but that the police department would still have other ways of enforcing its prohibition against sleeping and camping.
About 130 police officers in riot gear and 15 to 20 sheriff's deputies took part in clearing out the camp, which has occupied the Civic Center Plaza and its periphery since Oct. 7. Most people cleared out when the request was made. About 20 stayed behind and about half of those were arrested.
Long said 85 percent of the camp was made up of chronically homeless residents that police stationed in the area routinely see downtown. He said those people have gravitated toward the protesters' camp because for food and safety, and that the demographic shift has increased in recent weeks, along with fights within the group.
Long said the protest became an unlawful assembly that was creating health and safety issues. The officers also have seen a "significant increase in the number of violent acts" among those gathered, he said.
Since Oct. 14, police have arrested a felony warrant suspect, a parolee-at-large and a pedestrian robbery suspect and taken 10 crime case reports related to batteries, thefts and vandalism. This past weekend, two live shotgun rounds and two live handgun rounds were found by protesters and turned over to police.
Long said protesters were fighting one another at times and that one arrest over the weekend led to an officer having his finger bitten.
As officers moved through the area Wednesday morning, they saw "drug paraphernalia, weapons including knives and a makeshift billy club and rodents that had infested the illegal camp site," Long said. Ramirez didn't say whether the knives were kitchen utensils for food or other types of blades.
"They could be weapons," he said. "My impression is they were dumped when they saw us coming."
Ramirez said the police department enforces illegal lodging among the city's homeless population, but noted that this camp is larger and more unsanitary from those the chronically homeless set up.
Asked about complaints of selective persecution that protesters have levied against the police department in recent weeks, Ramirez said officers have been patient and accommodating.
"But there comes a point where it becomes unsafe, either health-wise or there's violence that's starting to erupt, and we need to take action," he said. "And that's what happened."
The police action Wednesday morning lasted about 90 minutes. Television video shows people scrambling to gather their belongings as officers surrounded them and used bullhorns to order them to leave.
One man being led away by two officers is seen loudly asking, "What am I being arrested for?"
Fifty-one Occupy San Diego protesters who had been camping in the City Hall plaza were arrested in a similar sweep on Oct. 28 that ended the lodging in the plaza itself.
Since then, the group had stationed their belongings on grass to the side of the Civic Theatre where they understood they were allowed to be. The area was sanctioned by police as a sleeping area for the group as well as homeless.
Police have said the sweeps occurred because the protesters were engaged in illegal lodging and that the camp was unsanitary. They told protesters they could return to the plaza, but they were not allowed to sleep in the square or put their personal belongings on the ground.