Haslam: 'Occupy' arrests necessary for safety

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam continued Tuesday to defend the arrests of dozens of Occupy Nashville protesters, even though the state has backed down on enforcing a curfew.

State Police arrest Occupy Nashville protestors early Friday morning Oct. 28, 2011 at the site where a few dozen Wall Street protesters have been encamped for about three weeks. (AP Photo/JOHN PARTIPILO\ - THE TENNESSEAN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam continued Tuesday to defend the arrests of dozens of Occupy Nashville protesters, even though the state has backed down on enforcing a curfew in the face of a federal judge's restraining order.

The Republican governor spoke with reporters a day after state officials agreed to stop enforcing the new curfew that was used last week to dislodge the protesters from the grounds around the Capitol.

The protesters went to federal court Monday seeking a temporary restraining order against Haslam, arguing the curfew and arrests violated their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.

State Attorney General's Office Senior Counsel Bill Marett announced at the beginning of the hearing before Judge Aleta Trauger that the state would not fight efforts to halt the policy. The judge said she had already decided to grant the restraining order because the curfew was a "clear prior restraint on free speech rights."

Haslam said Tuesday that the state's decision not to fight was not an admission of a mistake, but simply an agreement to a temporary restraining order.

He said he couldn't get into details of the state's decision because of the pending lawsuit, but he asserted that the arrests followed complaints from state workers, lawmakers and other people in the area.

The lawsuit says Haslam approved the curfew after complaints over three misdemeanor violations around Legislative Plaza: "an assault, public urination and an apparent tryst beneath a magnolia tree."

"Our goal is not to remove people from the plaza," Haslam said Tuesday. "Never has been, never will be. Our goal is to provide a safe environment. We set a curfew that we felt like was reasonable. That being said, the only way to enforce a curfew is to do what we did."

State troopers used the curfew put into place on Thursday to arrest 29 protesters early Friday and 26 people early Saturday.

Both times a Nashville magistrate refused to jail the protesters, saying the state didn't have probable cause to arrest them. They were released with citations.

The Nashville protesters are part of the six-week-old Occupy movement, which began in lower Manhattan to decry corporate influence in government and wealth inequality. It has spread to cities large and small across the country and around the world.

In Nashville on Tuesday, protesters set up more tents in the plaza, bringing the number close to 20.

"And we will have more tents," said protester Eva Watler. She said the one state trooper who was helping police the area was removed.

"We weren't asking for any extra help," she said. "We basically policed ourselves."

The two sides have until Nov. 21 to reach an agreement or go back to court for a hearing on the preliminary injunction.

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