Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan today defended the decision by his department to order Occupy protesters to remove their tents from Peavey Plaza on Saturday. But he also expressed disappointment at the way an officer treated a television cameraman whose camera was knocked to the ground during a night-time protest by the demonstrators.
The Occupy protesters had publicly announced their resumption of their anti-Wall Street activities early last week that included plans to put up tents in Loring Park and Peavey Plaza. The park police said they would not allow tents up overnight, but a Minneapolis police spokesman, Sgt. Steve McCarty, told the Star Tribune that the department would allow tents to be pitched overnight on Peavey Plaza, but people could not sleep in them.
Dolan said in an interview that he was unaware that police officials at lower levels had announced the tents could stay. “That direction should not have been given,” he said. “I did not know about that direction.”
Dolan did not make clear in his interview with me who had made the earlier call to allow the tents.
“Tents are an obstruction in themselves,” he said. “That was public property. If we allowed people to tent in the city we would have all sorts of people tenting in the city. So we are not going to allow an exception.” When I mentioned to him that tents were allowed on West River Road during the Republican National Convention in 2008, he said that was a Minneapolis Park Board decision, and when I mentioned the circus tents that have been put up elsewhere in the city, he said he was sure that that was by permit.
Dolan said he personally went out to the Occupy site on Saturday to talk to the protesters and explain that tents would not be allowed. “We advised them when they showed up that they (the tents) would not be allowed to stay…We explained why. We showed them the ordinance. We told them that the tents had to move and they moved them out without incident….We have an ordinance that does not allow obstructions. We gave them copies.”
He said that the altered decision about the tents was not responsible for the incidents later that night. Protesters carried some tents in a march through downtown Minneapolis and 12 were arrested for blocking traffic and creating a nuisance.
When I noted to Dolan that Occupy protesters last year had marched through the streets and had actually been led by Minneapolis police, he said that on Saturday night, the demonstrators were blocking the streets and that some of the protesters were on bikes that were blocking squad cars.
Joy Powell, a reporter for the Star Tribune, reported in the Monday morning paper that KSTP-TV photographer Chad Nelson was videotaping the arrests when an officer shoved his camera, knocking it to the ground and slightly injuring the cameraman.
“Internal Affairs is looking at that,” said Dolan, referring to the internal police unit that investigates possible police misconduct. “In my review of that incident, I cannot see any logical reason or why that cameraman was interfered with by the police officer. So I have my concern. It will be thoroughly reviewed. We specifically instructed all our people to not take individual actions out there. If that is what it was, I am very disappointed.”
Asked if that could lead to discipline, Dolan said he would stay with the comment that he made.